5 Reasons NOT to Become a Hop Farmer in 2015

We’ve all read the stories about the impending hop shortage thanks to the craft beer boom. Before you get the idea of becoming a Hop Farmer in 2015, here are five reasons NOT to get into the hop-growing business.

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  1. 5. I can make a ton of money growing hops! Sure, hop prices are higher now than they have been for a while. That has everybody thinking they can get rich quick. That doesn’t mean that it will be profitable though. Small scale may be cheap, but quality is inconsistent, expenses can get out of control (if they’re tracked at all) and customers are picky. To start at scale requires a huge upfront capital investment. There is money in hops, but it’s not easy money.

Just like gold in California. In 1849, it was sitting around all over and you just had to pick it up. Today, you have to dig deep to find it. There may be some little nuggets lying around you can pick up easily, but don’t mistake that for a gold mine.

  1. It’ll be a really cool marketing strategy for our new brewery! Are you a brewer, or a farmer? Focus on your strengths. Growing a serious volume of hops near your brewery is a great way to waste a lot of money, time and effort on something that, in the end, is only going to be a cool novelty. There are larger brewers who have done it, but it hasn’t become a sustainable part of their hop supply.
  1. I’ve got a lot of brewers in my area! That’s pretty much the case all around the country these days. Chances are, they’re all used to a high level of quality. Some of them may be willing to pay a premium for local or fresh hops. If that’s the case, and if they don’t care as much about quality, lucky you! Unless you can guarantee quality that matches the big boys out in Yakima, Wash., or in the Hallertau and be willing to take the loss if you can’t, maybe you shouldn’t jump into the biz.
  1. Nobody else is growing hops in my area! Maybe that’s for a reason. Hops will grow most anywhere, but they only thrive in certain areas under certain conditions. If you don’t live in one of those areas, you’ll have a lot more challenges than the average hop farmer, which means a lot more expenses … which means a longer way to go to break even. That said, if you can market to the niche local and fresh hop crowd, you may be able to keep your head above water while the high prices last for a few years. Don’t expect that to last forever though. Change is the only constant in the hop industry.

1. I had a hop plant in my garden that did really well last summer. Congratulations! You bought a rope and now you want to be a cowboy. It doesn’t work like that. Doing a one-off is a totally different ball game than doing something at a commercial scale. You have no idea how much work goes into producing quality hops at scale. Oh, you have a bunch of friends who said they’ll help you hand pick the hops at harvest? They won’t be your friends for long after that. Producing quality hops at scale consistently requires a sizeable investment, a lot of time, energy and labor … and even then you may only break even after 5 years.

Writer’s note: The list comes from real questions we’ve received. During my years as Director of Hop Growers of America and still to this day as a hop merchant, I get questions all the time from people who think they want to grow hops, but who don’t know the first thing about it. They’re lured in by the money and what they think will be a lot of fun. I should probably go now.  In the past couple days, I’ve received two emails from guys who think they want to become hop farmers and I should probably get back with them. Oh wait … I just did.