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NC Farmers 'Hopping On' the Beer Bandwagon

Photo: Pelczar checking on Cascade Hop crop. Courtesy: Blue Ridge Hops
Photo: Pelczar checking on Cascade Hop crop. Courtesy: Blue Ridge Hops
July 31, 2013

MILLS RIVER, N.C. - Beer is big business in North Carolina, and farmers are starting to capitalize on the growing industry.

Seventy-nine breweries now call the state home, and most of them have to import their hops from the Pacific Northwest. Farmers are working with scientists at North Carolina State University to find out how to best care for the crop in North Carolina.

"With all of the breweries that have opened up in North Carolina, farmers saw an opportunity," said Jeanine Davis, a horticulturist at North Carolina State. "Combine that with our local food movement, and we've got something happening."

Luckily, Davis said, Cascade hops, the most popular strain among brewers, are proving to be the most successful. Eighty hops farmers operate in North Carolina. While none of them can meet the demand of larger breweries yet, many already are selling their crops for small batch brews.

Davis said it's time consuming and costly for commercial hops farmers to experiment because hops take up to three years to mature.

"They have to rip out the majority of their yard and replant," she said. "By letting the university do the variety trials, when I have to rip out 80 percent and put in new ones, you know, nobody is losing any money. That's research."

According to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, there is no shortage of people to drink North Carolina beer. Beer drinkers support almost 10,000 jobs in North Carolina and contribute more than $1 billion in economic impact.

Rita Pelczar and her husband moved to Marshall in western North Carolina six years ago and were looking for a way to use their land.

"There was a worldwide shortage of hops, so we thought, 'Well, maybe we should try that.' We're so close to Asheville," she said, "and Asheville has got such a dynamic beer scene."

Since then, the hops shortage ended, but Pelczar says their business is growing. They supply hops to two Asheville breweries and managed to turn their first profit last year.

Stephanie Carroll Carson/Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC