Hops are not a simple crop to begin producing. Extensive trellis systems must be built and plants can be costly to purchase. Though infrastructure and plants last 25 years, a typical one acre plot can cost in the range of $15,000 – $20,000. The startup is costly with a return on investment of up to four years.
Hops face the same challenges as any other agricultural crop; like crop diseases and poor weather. However, hops are not as tolerant to unpredictable elements as would be a row crop such as corn or soybean. Hops require significant amounts of water and nutrients that are not achievable through nature alone.
Hop flowers are fragile and can be easily damaged by strong winds and hail, which both frequent Nebraska’s growing season.
Hops are also labor intensive and are not a typical crop. There is little off the shelf equipment or previous knowledge that can be used. The harvesting, drying and pelletizing process is time consuming and the equipment needed for this process previously has not been readily available or inexpensive.
Challenges facing growers include establishment costs, harvesting capabilities and processing.
So why are we growing hops? Hops demand is on the rise with the increase of craft brewers growing at the rate of 15% in 2015, totaling 4,269 breweries-the most at any time in America history (Brewers Association, March 2016). Craft beer sales have grown in the double digits over the past eight years.
The increasing popularity of craft beers and the desire for locally produced hops has opened the market for smaller growers throughout Nebraska and the Midwest. Rural farmers are faced with declining commodity prices and are looking for alternative crops to supplement their incomes.