Hop Yard Keeps Growers Busy

Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Hop Exchange; Photo by Rob Kosmeder.

So you love Wisconsin beer, but what about the key ingredient that goes into it? Hops! And Wisconsin can grow it pretty well.

Bob Conant and his brother operate Bohica Hops in Tomah, a 5-acre hop yard. He says the hop crop looks good after a labor-intensive spring, and he’s busy scouting for Japanese beetles, corn borers, leaf hoppers and downy mildew until harvest.

The cooler weather slowed the crop down a bit, but it reduced pressure of fungus. The plants have since caught up thanks to the warm summer. When it comes to supply chain and inflation, Bob says the niche nature of growing hops meant that availability of fertilizers and fungicides was fine, but the price was very high for nitrogen.

Early varieties begin making cones in late July and will be harvested around this time of year. Conant says the harvest is a very hard two weeks, but it’s also the best time of year because it brings family and friends together. After the hops are picked, they go onto a drier so they don’t spoil. After about two days, they’re baled into 100-lbs bales. After baling, they go to cold storage at a processing plant. The hops are pelletized and go out to breweries around February.

Growing hops is not a lucrative business here in Wisconsin, but producers are looking to grow the industry through the Wisconsin Hop Exchange, Conant explains. Since the pandemic shut down a lot of microbreweries, it means a lot of extra hops is available right now — and the Pacific Northwest can sell their hops it cheaper.

However, the support from brewers in Wisconsin, such as New Glarus, for Wisconsin hops has been helping growers. Conant says the Wisconsin Hop Exchange is looking for more growers and more hops to meet new local demand.