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Florida farmers eyeing hops as next niche crop!

Craft beer produced and sold in Florida accounted for $875.9 million dollars in 2013 (Brewers Association, 2014). Florida produces approximately 5.4 million gallons of beer annually from its 66 craft breweries. As interest and demand in craft beer has soared, the number of craft breweries has increased significantly (1.5-fold) between 2011 and 2013 alone. As demand for artisanal beer continues to climb, so does the demand for the highest quality, local ingredients. The Florida Hops Consortium is here to foster the development and production of an extremely unique agricultural crop to the Florida craft brewing industry—locally grown Florida hops.

With the state's iconic citrus industry reeling due to a so-far incurable bacterial disease, some Florida farmers are eyeing a new niche crop that can tap into the country's burgeoning beer-brewing business: hops.

Hops are vining plants that produce pungent flowers or buds that for hundreds of years have been used by brewers as the building blocks of a beer's flavor and aroma. The acids in hops produce bitterness, and the plants' oils give beer a floral or citrusy aroma, depending on the plant.

Traditionally, Florida was considered too hot and humid to grow hops — most varieties are grown in Germany and other European countries with cooler climates, while 95 percent of hops grown in the U.S. come from Washington and other Pacific Northwest states. An explosion of craft breweries in the U.S. has pushed demand sky high, and as a result, shortages of popular hop varieties are common for smaller breweries, which compete with much larger ones for the same supply.

Three years ago, home-brewing horticulturist Brian Pearson of the University of Florida decided he wanted fresh hops and began doing his own research on what he could grow. He started with a few plants in a small wooden shed, and that has since grown into hundreds of plants and a hope that Florida may have found a new cash crop.

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