Research project to try to bring hops to Nevada agriculture
Nevada agriculture doesn’t have much in the way of specialty crops, like hops, yet. But Urban Roots is collaborating with the University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension to grow a one-acre experimental hop yard to try to make this a profitable crop in northern Nevada.
Currently, Nevada brewers don’t have much choice in the variety of hops they get, but the High Desert Hops project aims to change that.
“The small guys—even a company as big as Great Basin, which is Nevada’s biggest brewer—they don’t really have a lot of buying power when it comes to hops,” said Jeff Bryant, Urban Roots executive director. “They’re at the mercy of the market where you have your big, big companies who really determine what goes where. They get what they want first, and then all the small guys fight over what’s left basically.”
The hops will be grown at the university’s Main Station Field Laboratory in east Reno, where Urban Roots will work on the project with university interns.
“The big piece for Urban Roots was to give unique ag experience to university students or to give them an approach to agriculture that might be different from what we’ve done in Nevada for a long time,” Bryant said.
The study will go on for five years, but Bryant hopes the university will be able to continue growing hops after the study ends. The project is funded by the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program.
“In 2013, the government’s office of economic development, the agricultural sector, identified hops as priority crops to be introduced into Nevada’s agriculture,” Bryant said. “And so with that knowledge, we approached the Department of Agriculture about a grant to see if we could experiment with them to see which varieties do well, which varieties don’t do well, and also try to work with the brewers to make sure they’re the right qualities that they’re looking for, not just grow something that nobody will want.”
Before choosing which hops varieties to experiment with, a survey was sent to local brewers asking which varieties they would want to purchase locally. They ended up with 10 varieties and a total of about a thousand plants coming from Michigan, which were planted last Saturday, May 10.
The project’s main goal is to get Nevada farmers growing hops so that hops can become a part of Nevada’s economy. This project will serve as a model for what farmers should and shouldn’t do when getting into the hops business. This is especially important because the plants take about three years to mature.
“By using our hops as an example, they can grow the quality that brewers are looking for and the farmers will know that they have a market to sell to,” Bryant said. “It’s a big investment for them to go into, especially when they won’t see a full return for three years. So if we can come out and help set up the market and agreements ahead of time, it will be better for everyone.”