The 2021 season has been challenging for many farmers due to drought, but for South Dakota hop growers, the conditions are nearly ideal this year.
Hops require a great deal of water due to their growth rate, with the greatest need in late June and early July. Most hop farmers irrigate their hops to ensure they have enough water during their peak growing periods. A dry and hot year has the benefits of reducing mildew pressure on the hop plants and ensuring they receive plenty of sunlight for optimum growth.
“Hops are a beautiful plant. Reportedly the second fastest growing plant on earth, after bamboo, it is amazing to witness their growth. At their peak, hops can grow 10-14 inches per day, up to eight feet in a week. Amazing!” said Mark Bonnema of Hoppy Trails Hop Farm.
There are currently over 150 documented hop varieties with new varieties being developed and released to the brewing community every year. Many of the newest hop varieties were bred, developed, and released to the brewing community by private hop growers and are subject to patent and licensing agreements.
South Dakota Hop Growers currently does not have access or permission to grow many of the newest patented hop varieties. Of the varieties that are grown by S.D. Hop Growers, those with heritage native to North America have been growing the best and show the greatest potential to produce the highest yield. ‘Old World’ hops with heritage native to continental Europe have suffered poor growth during periods of excessive heat and drought.
South Dakota Hop Growers, a Chapter of the S.D. Specialty Producers Association, currently has a campaign underway with the goal of increasing awareness of South Dakota grown hops by meeting with every South Dakota based brewery. As the S.D. Hop Growers increase the awareness of local hops, they hope to increase the sale of South Dakota grown hops to total 20% of all hops used by South Dakota Breweries.
The majority of hops farms are located in southeastern South Dakota and on the Iowa border.
Lee Anderson, head brewer of A Homestead Brew in Valley Springs, graduated from culinary school, but slightly changed his passion to farming and brewing. He still loves cooking to pair with his delicious crafted beers. Anderson began growing hops in 2012 on the same land his great grandfather built his home on in 1882. The brewing began in 2016. A Homestead Brew embraces a field to glass approach utilizing hops and fruit they grow on their farm.
“We have barrel-aged sour beers, as well as many other more traditional beers and kettle sours. We specialize in spontaneous fermentation. Stop out to our outdoor patio and enjoy a field to glass beer. Open on Fridays and Saturdays or for your special events,” Anderson said.
Ryan Heine and Michelle Donner own, operate, and live on 6th Meridian Hop Farm in Yankton. The farm is home to 5 acres of trellis with 14 varieties of hops in trial and production, contracted to brewers in multiple Midwest states. In addition to the hops, the farm is home to a commercial kitchen making fresh creations as Counterfeit Catering and Farm House Fridge, a contactless lunch room kiosk.
Hoppy Trails Hop Farm is a 3rd generation family farm just over the SD/IA border in Inwood, IA. The operation started in 2014 on a small, ¼-acre parcel after Mark Bonnema realized this was the direction to go after watching a news feature of a Midwest farm growing hops. After a few years gaining experience growing hops, the operation expanded to 4 acres in 2016. Expansion allowed the farm to justify purchasing the specialty equipment needed for growing, harvesting, drying and processing hops.
A ‘South Dakota Hop Catalog’ is currently in print and making circulation. S.D. Hop Growers also has developed a website, https://www.southdakotahopgrowers.com, featuring all South Dakota based hop farms and each variety of hops grown in South Dakota.
Mature hop cones will dry down and be ready for harvest early in 2021 due to the heat and drought. Early maturing varieties will be harvested starting the second week of August, and late maturing varieties will be harvested around the second week of September.
It typically takes producers several weeks to pellet, package, and analyze the new crop before delivery to S.D. breweries. It is never too early to contact a local grower and reserve a portion of the upcoming harvest. Often the best prices can be secured by pre-ordering and reserving your hops prior to harvest.
This fall the S.D. Hop Growers plans to package and distribute small packages of S.D. grown hops for the home brewing community. Watch your local home brew shop and the S.D. Hop Growers website for availability.
After hop harvest and processing has completed, the next project is to create a S.D. Hop and Beer calendar, highlighting all of the national beer holidays as well as special dates and events of South Dakota based breweries. These calendars will be available for the public to purchase in time for the holidays.