With an ever-expanding interest in home and local brews, the consumption of beer has become more of an art than a pastime. And as the number of breweries in Colorado expands, so does the need for quality, local ingredients, especially hops.
Hops, the female seed cone of Humulus lupulus, are used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer. Historically, hops have been produced in large amounts in areas like Germany, England and the Pacific Northwest. However, extensive research completed over the past decade shows that hops grow remarkably well in a surprising place, the Western Slope of Colorado.
The subject was part of an integrated land management workshop held Tuesday at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center. The workshop was sponsored by area extension offices.
There are 112 craft brewers in (Colorado) right now, and there is a giant demand for local hops, said Ron Godin, Colorado State University Extension agronomist for organic and sustainable agriculture. The market is big, and we grow high-quality hops in this region.
Godin said he works with roughly 15 hops growers in the Tri-River area, which comprises Delta, Mesa, Montrose and Ouray counties. Southwest Colorado is an ideal place to grow the ingredient brewers need, he said.
The Latin name means A wolf among sheep, and it is a perfect name because they are such vigorous growers, Godin said. It is basically a weed, and it grows like crazy. So theres that. We have low humidity and a great climate and very little pests. It is a great area for growing hops.
Hops are grown in areas called hops yards that resemble giant vineyards or telephone pole farms. Because the perennial plants grow so quickly, they are anchored to a trellis system in their second season. Most hops plants will grow to reach a maximum height of 18 to 20 feet.
You have to have the vertical space and the ability to build the trellis to grow hops, Godin said.
Hops is a perfect plant for small-acreage producers due to the vertical nature of the plant. Roughly 1,100 plants will fit in one acre if spaced properly. Godin said even a two-acre operation could yield surprising profits.
In the third year of growth, hops will reach maximum yield potential, typically yielding close to 2,000 pounds of hops an acre. Hops require much the same care and supervision as other plants, including management of water, soil nutrients and disease.
The work and cost of building the trellis, managing the plants and harvest makes hops a labor-intensive crop, Godin said. It could cost a producer up to $15,000 to prepare 1.5 acres for hops. That price includes the cost of a trellis, plants and soil amendments. The price doesnt include the cost of irrigation.
Harvest is also an important consideration when growing hops, Godin said. While possible, harvesting hops by hand is so intensive you will lose friends.
You have to get a harvesting machine, Godin said, noting that old apple sorters have been turned into successful pickers.
Despite the up-front cost, Godin believes the benefits of hops production far outweigh the liabilities.
If you can get a yield of 2,000 pound in year three, he said. Even at 10 bucks a pound, which is low, you are looking at $20,000 gross per acre. Thats unheard of in agriculture.
The most popular strains of hops in Colorado are the Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, all of which perform well on the Western Slope.
Cindy Schroeder, a grower from La Plata County, said she and her husband started a hops yard last year and they are pleased at the progress the plants are making this year.
We started 240 (plants) last year, and this is the second year, Schroeder said. Weve got it on the trellis, and it is growing. Weve already had a local brewer express interest in the hops.
Godin told of a grower in the Tri-River area who just started her hops yard and already has a three-year contract with Odell Brewing Co. out of Fort Collins.
They have guaranteed her $15 a pound for the next three years, Godin said. That is a success story, and I think we can have a lot more of those.
For more information, contact Godin at [email protected] or 970-874-2197.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]