One of the drivers of demand for niche or specialty products is the farmers’ ability to market them as locally produced, and in the case of food products that includes being able to say the ingredients are locally grown. That’s why Tennessee’s burgeoning microbrewery industry is encouraging the local production of a key ingredient in beer that is not among the usual list of Tennessee specialty crops. Hops are used to add flavor and aroma to beer, and they can also contribute to a brew’s shelf life.
They are not widely grown in Tennessee, but that may change soon.
A team of University of Tennessee Extension specialists from across the state has been awarded a grant for a project aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of specialty crops, specifically hops. Four specialists from three departments have teamed up to implement the project. They will study hops production in others states, develop educational materials to aid in the evaluation of hops production in Tennessee and analyze the demand for hops and other specialty crops by craft brewers.
Rob Holland, director of the UT Center for Profitable Agriculture, says that the project is in response to the increased interest from local brewers wanting to obtain locally-grown crops. “Tennessee farmers are excellent producers and the new market opportunity that local brewers and distillers provide for specialty crops such as hops is worth pursuing. New markets create new production opportunities for local farmers,” he said.
David Lockwood, a professor with the UT Department of Plant Sciences, will lead the effort to evaluate production possibilities for hops. He says farmers need more information before committing acreage to production.
“There is a lot of interest in growing the crop in Tennessee but we do not yet know what kind of production to expect in our area year to year. We need to study our local growing conditions including, soil and climate to see if we can generate acceptable yields,” he said. “This grant allows us to embark on a valuable fact-finding mission and narrow the options and avoid some of the common pitfalls of new crops at the farm level.”
David Hughes, who serves as the Greever Chair of Excellence in Agribusiness Development in the UT Agricultural and Resource Economics Department, will lead a survey and analyze the potential demand that exists for hops. He said, “Local brewers are expressing a strong desire to purchase inputs from Tennessee farmers and hops has the potential to generate supplemental income, especially on small acreage.” However, before business recommendations are suggested to farmers, demand has to be quantified.
“This project shows the benefit of multidisciplinary collaboration among our Extension Specialists and will provide more information from which Tennessee farmers can make better business decisions,” added Mike Buschermohle, UT Extension’s interim assistant dean. “Investigating new crop opportunities contributes to more vibrant farm opportunities in our state.”
The project is funded in part by the Specialty Crop Block Grant program which is administered by the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and the USDA.
“The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is dedicated to developing new opportunities for Tennessee’s farm and rural communities. The data gained from this project will provide valuable information for farmers as they consider diversifying their operations by growing hops,” said Debbie Ball, TDA Agribusiness Development Consultant.