Brewing up a partnership
While it is unlikely that fields of hops will ever be as common as fields of corn, soybeans and wheat, Annette Wiles and her husband, Bruce, think that hops, the plants that provide the chemicals used in beer brewing for flavor and aroma, can be a good alternative crop for Nebraska.
“Our vision is to establish hop farming and processing as a viable business in Nebraska and the Midwest region,” she said.
The increasing interest in craft beers is creating more interest in locally sourced ingredients, including hops. The Wileses grow hops themselves, but they also want to establish a well-managed hop enterprise that will provide other growers with a high-value crop produced on small acreages ranging from 1⁄4 to 10 acres. They want to do this within a system that returns the majority of the crop value back to the grower while using sustainable practices.
Annette and Bruce, who farm near Plattsmouth, are collaborating with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to grow their start-up companies:
- Nebraska Hop Yards, where their hops are grown;
- Midwest Hop Producers, which focuses on the milling, pelletizing and packaging of hops and hops sales to brewers; and
- Midwest Hop Yard Supplies, which sources supplies and materials needed for hop yard trellis systems and other equipment to growers.
The Wileses have provided funding for hops trellis systems, cultivar research and lab testing services in the university’s Department of Agronomy and Horticulture. In addition to hops, baby ginger, another ingredient used in some beers, has been grown in an East Campus greenhouse from seed imported from Hawaii.
Our vision is to establish hop farming and processing as a viable business in Nebraska and the Midwest region. Annette Wiles
By using Nebraska Department of Economic Development grants and partnering with
the university’s Department of Biological Systems Engineering, prototypes for cost-effective and efficient hop dryers suitable for use in small hop yards have been constructed and are being tested prior to commercialization. Future research will include hop varietal development, including the wild hops found in Nebraska, and hop oil compounds research by the Department of Food Science and Technology’s Food Processing Center at Innovation Campus, Annette Wiles said.
Financial contributions by the Wileses helped organize a Nebraska Extension grower survey in support of an extension hop coordinator position. They also helped to establish the first Nebraska Hop Grower and Brewer Conference and Tradeshow. Additionally, they hold grower workshops, field days and scouting workshops.
Bruce, a third-generation farmer who previously managed 11,000 acres of corn and soybeans for more than 40 years, earned his associate’s degree in agricultural science from the university in 1977.
“Working with the university on hops is a way that we can give back,” Annette Wiles said. “I’m excited that people in Nebraska are interested in growing hops.”