The Kentucky Department of Agriculture and the University of Kentucky are researching the viability of hops as a crop farmers can grow to tap into the booming craft beer market.
“The number of craft breweries in Kentucky has grown more than 600 percent just in the past five years, and that has created a market for Kentucky-grown hops,” said Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in a news release. “It’s important that we work with our universities on research to establish the best production methods for potential emerging crops such as hops.”
Most Kentucky hops growers use them for home brewing, but at least one operation of some scale has begun in recent years. Most of the hops used by breweries is grown in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Nancy Cox, dean of UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, said the university is excited to partner with the KDA, Kentucky Guild of Brewers, and the Kentucky Hop Growers Alliance to work on ways to produce hops successfully. The crop could be viable for Eastern Kentucky, as well as Central and Western Kentucky.
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“We are always very interested in potential agricultural commodities that might produce a positive economic effect for the people of Kentucky, especially the rural Appalachian region,” said David Williams, director of the Robinson Center for Appalachian Resource Sustainability.
Typical yield of hops is about 6,000 pounds per acre wet or 2,500 pounds per acre dry. A small craft brewery uses an average of 18,000 pounds of hops a year, but some use much more. Alltech’s Lexington brewery, West Sixth Brewing and Country Boy Brewing use about 100,000 pounds of hops a year combined, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
Kentucky’s craft breweries directly provide more than 460 jobs and have invested $27 million in start-up and infrastructure. In 2016, craft brewers have committed more than $22 million in expansions in Kentucky. Beer produced in Kentucky has an estimated economic impact of $495 million a year, the KDA said.