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September 26, 2013

Foothills hosts talk on hops' potential

By Jessica Reynolds Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — One of Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center’s lecture rooms was full Wednesday as Dr. Carlena Ficano, professor of economics at Hartwick College, gave a presentation on the possible profitability of local hops production of hops, one of the main ingredients in beer.

The area was one of the biggest producers of hops around in 1808, but had died out by 1890 because of disease and a lack of knowledge on hop production.

But Ficano and The Greater Oneonta Economic Development Council (GO-EDC) think hops can work again for Oneonta and the surrounding area. Ficano on Wednesday presented a final report of a hops feasibility study that she and a Hartwick college student intern, Dawn Rivers, recently finished at the request of GO-EDC. The presentation explained the pros and cons of hops growing in layman’s terms.

According to Ficano and others, there’s potential in hops production in the region. In fact, they’re already being grown in the Finger Lakes region and even in Otsego County.

Ficano said one-third of U.S. hops production is from the west coast, notably Washington state, Oregon and Idaho on large commercial farms. But hops production can be fruitful and successful even on small farms; Ficano said a single full-time farmer and processor of hops from five acres of land can yield an annual income of $48,000.

Ficano said the demand to justify growing hops in the area is there because the craft-beer industry is growing quickly. Craft brewers — breweries that produce less than 6 million barrels a year — are increasingly interested in New York hops because of their high quality.

There are approximately 7,498 acres of idle farm land in Otsego County, and the climate and soil are suitable for growing hops. There has also been some initiative from state government through the New York State Farm Brewery Law, which allows for on- and off-site sale at reduced cost to breweries if their ingredients are grown in New York.

According to Ficano, the success of growing hops in this area depends mainly on two things: whether brewers are willing to come to New York rather than the West Coast for their hops, and whether local farmers are interested and willing to invest in the production of hops.

Ficano and others at the presentation Wednesday said hops aren’t the easiest or cheapest crop to start up; farmers may not see a full yield until their third year of growth.

Steve Miller, a hops specialist from Cornell University, likened the initiating of hops growing to putting in a grape vineyard: it isn’t easy, and takes a lot of care including water, weeding and fertilizer. But Miller and others believe it can be worthwhile.

“It can create jobs, increase interest in locally grown products, and stimulate the economy. Brewers want New York state hops because it’s good quality,” Miller said. “If they will pay us instead of Washington state or Germany, it would absolutely be worth it.”