Last fall, South Dakota businessman Steve Polley was scouting for ways to make some extra income when he saw a news headline: The price of hops was surging because of a global shortage.
At the time, Polley knew little about hops, the flowering plants that give beers their distinct aromas and bitterness. Now, helped by a state agricultural grant, the 67-year-old is preparing for his first hops harvest on a small plot on his neighbor's land in Spearfish, S.D.
Polley is among a small but rising number of newcomers to attempt to grow hops on a commercial scale outside the Pacific Northwest, America's haven for hops. One of the most obscure crops in a long line of agriculture commodities to enjoy a recent price boom, hops are sprouting in numerous other locales, from Colorado to Wisconsin to New York. The growers aim to capitalize on hop prices that are as much as sixfold higher than a few years ago, as well as the nation's boom in small-batch "craft" brewers, like Colorado's New Belgium Brewing Co. and Odell Brewing Co., which are thirsty for locally grown hops.
Hops, which are green, cone-shaped flowers that grow on vines, are now selling to brewers on the spot market for about $20 to $30 a pound, up from roughly $5 just a few years ago. (Larger brewers typically lock in lower prices than that by signing long-term contracts.)
Many new hop farmers are focused on selling to brewers in their region. Rick Pedersen, a farmer in Seneca Castle, N.Y., began growing hops in 1999 but wasn't able to start selling them until just few years ago, when the Ithaca Beer Co. in Ithaca, N.Y., became a customer. He is part of a budding revival of hops production in the Northeast, with farmers in states such as Pennsylvania also participating.
Photo by Alamy.