Demand is there, but jumping into hops isn’t easy

Fresh hops can fetch $8 a pound, but only have a shelf life of about 24 hours before they must be dried.
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If you’re wondering if hops might be something you’d like to try, Ontario’s Ag Ministry’s website has a powerpoint primer called Local Hops: A brewing industry.

Even though the presentation is barely a year old, Alberta doesn’t even make the list of hops-growing provinces. The owners of Northern Girls Hops west of Edmonton actually started their hop yard in 2013, but the sector is still tiny.

The potential, however, is huge. The Ontario presentation estimates that province alone would need 1,500 acres of hops to replace what’s being imported, but has only 90 acres (second to Quebec and just ahead of B.C.).

And the numbers can be eye popping. The Ontario presentation says yields can hit 1,800 pounds per acre, with a pound of dried hops fetching $14 to $16. That dollar figure is close to what the president of the newly formed Alberta Hop Producers Association has seen on offer, but the production is well above current yields here.

“Pounds per acre is hard for us to gauge right now because of our overall startup phase, but I believe that Northern Girls has estimated (production) between 1,000 to 1,500 pounds per acre,” Wade Bendfeld said in an email. “That’s not up to par with major U.S. producers’ harvests but again, we’re in our infancy stage.”

A big craft brewer might want 20,000 pounds in a year, but it all depends on what types of beer it’s making.

“Hoppy beers are obviously going to use more hops,” he said. “Some extreme double IPAS would use a pound of hops in 10 gallons… while a light lager or a malt-focused stout might only use an ounce or two of hops for the same amount of beer.”

And you might need a pint after looking at the startup costs. Ontario’s Ag Ministry puts establishment costs at $15,000 to $20,000 per acre (not including harvesting and drying equipment) and labour at $5,800 to $9,500 per acre. The powerpoint presentation can be found at the Ontario’s Ag Ministry’s website by clicking on ‘Introduction to Hop Production’ by Evan Elford.

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