SPECIAL REPORT: Farming for Beer, Northern Michigan’s Growing Hops Industry

Many beer makers say the key to a great beer is the hops. Now more local breweries are seeking out northern Michigan hops to make some unique varieties of beer.

Empire Orchards in Leelanau County is one of the major hops growers in our area. The farm currently grows about 54 acres but will grow at least an additional 100 acres next year. The farm started growing the crop five years ago and has seen substantial growth.

More than three quarters of the country's hops are grown for commercial production in Washington State. Farmers say Michigan is really just beginning to get started.

“We have plenty of water here which is a good thing…because we're farther north, they grow best on the 45th parallel, we have long days so this is a good place,” said Dan Wiesen with Empire Orchards and Hops Farm.

Farmers say while the crop is very valuable it requires a significant investment to get started. The cost of land, irrigation wells, and building the structure to grow the hops can be expensive. Also, equipment used to process the hops on an industrial scale can be expensive.

Right Brain Brewery in Traverse City is using more local hops to make several types of beer.

“The fact that we can go back into our backyard less than two hours away and pick hops off the vine and put it directly into our beer is kind of a no brainier,” said Leif Kolt with Right Brain Brewery.

Brewery Terra Firma is an agricultural brewery that grows some of its hops at the production facility. The owner says the idea is nothing new.

“It used to be that all breweries were on farms at one point so it was not uncommon if you wanted to open a brewery you had to go find a farm,” said John Niedermaier, owner of Brewery Terra Firma.

Kyle Mitchell and Photojournalist Tony Zyber take a closer look at the trend in this special report “Farming for Beer.”

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