Hops farming sees growth spurt
There was a time when Madison, Oneida, and Otsego Counties provided the country with 80 percent of its entire hops supply. Madison County is celebrating its 17th annual Hop Fest in honor of that heritage. But, as our Sarah Blazonis tells us, many at the events were also looking toward the crop's future.
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ONEIDA, N.Y. -- When Good Nature Brewing in Hamilton opened its doors at the beginning of the year, it had a mission: use as many ingredients from local farmers as possible.
"I don't want to say we ever did it as a marketing niche. I think we did it because it's something we believe in. But yeah, it's really great to see the reaction we get from people when they realize our hops are grown directly up the street," said Matt Whalen, founder of Good Nature Brewing.
Good Nature is in luck. It and other craft brewers have more options now than they've had in decades when it comes to finding local suppliers for what was once a major cash crop in the region.
Hops has seen a statewide growth spurt in just the past two or three years. Back then, officials say there were about four farmers growing the plant. Since then, that number has gone up to 60, and experts say it's all because of demand.
"We've got 120 microbreweries in the state, and I think that's really driving it, consumer interest in specialty beers," said Steve Miller, a hops specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County.
Hops Specialist Steve Miller says the new Farm Brewery law signed by the governor earlier this year also provided an incentive for growers.
"It will allow people to do small-scale brewing, very much like the Farm Winery License that was created in 1976," said Miller. "We went from a handful of wineries in New York at that time to about 330 that we have now. We're hoping that the Farm Brewery Legislation will do the same thing."
Organizers of Madison County Hop Fest say they've also seen increased participation in this year's event that celebrates the history of the crop.
"It's important that we learn from our past, but it's also important to look to our future. So the viability of hop growing here in Madison County has really skyrocketed," said Sydney Loftus, executive director of the Madison County Historical Society.
About 25 acres of hops are expected to be harvested this year, but with a total of 85 acres planted statewide, officials think there's a lot of growing potential for the future of the crop.