Florida farmers eyeing hops as the next niche crop

PBPO News:

Some Florida farmers are looking for a niche crop to tap into the nation’s growing beer-brewing industry, as the iconic state citrus industry is in decline.

Vining hops produce pungent flowers and buds, which are used by beer brewers for centuries to create the base of a beer’s flavor. Hops are bitter because of their acidity, while the oils from the plants give beer a floral, citrusy, or both, depending on which hops they are.

Florida was once considered too hot and humid for hop cultivation. Most varieties are now grown in Germany or other European countries that have cooler climates. However, 95 percent of hops grown here in the U.S. comes from Washington and other Pacific Northwest States. The U.S. has seen a boom in craft breweries. As a result, it is common for smaller breweries to run out of popular varieties. These smaller breweries compete for the same supply.

Brian Pearson, a University of Florida horticulturist and home-brewer, decided three years ago that he wanted fresh hops. He began researching what he could plant. He began with just a few plants in his small wooden shed. Since then, he has grown hundreds of plants. Florida might have a new cash crop.

Pearson stated that “the amount of phone call from brewers asking for them, and the number of phone calls received from growers wanting them, have been incredibly overwhelming.”

It makes sense that there is local interest. Florida was home to more craft breweries in 2015 than any other state. This happened at a time where citrus farmers, worth nearly $11 billion, were trying to add new products to their crop. Florida’s citrus harvest has declined by 60 percent over the past decade.