Hops processing business starts

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Hops farmer Robert Timberman and Chris Hansen, co-owner of Climbing Bines with the harvestor.

Sen. Chuck Schumer announced last week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved $34,000 in federal funding through the Rural Business Enterprise Grant program for the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC) in Yates County.

This funding will enable the FLEDC to purchase hops processing equipment and a shared hops harvester to benefit several local hops farmers.

“With this funding, the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center in Yates County will be able to purchase the equipment needed for hops farmers to increase production and meet the growing demand for hops from Upstate New York breweries,” said Schumer. “This funding is a small investment in what will be big returns for these farmers. Now, they will be able to process more hops by sharing this critical mechanical harvester that was initially cost-prohibitive, but is now a reality. This is the kind of investment that will bring further acclaim to the region’s hops reputation and enhance the economy of Yates County.”

Last year Schumer visited Climbing Bines Hop Farm in Torrey and stood beside other Yates County hops farmers to urge the USDA and Small Business Administration (SBA) to make available low-cost financing programs that provide start-up capital in the form of loans to small businesses and also to partner with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s New York State Hop Program and several regional hops growers led by Climbing Bines in an effort to find federal funding for a harvester, which costs $68,800.

“The funding from this grant is going to provide the much needed harvesting/processing equipment needed to deliver a feasible, quality hop to the booming New York craft brewing explosion,” said Chris Hansen, co-owner of Climbing Bines Hop Farm. “Our goal is to help our local farmers produce and process the finest hops NYS can grow, so that eventually local breweries will be able to source the majority of their hops from a New York farm,” says Hansen. “After visiting our farm brewery and listening to our needs over a year ago, we want to thank Senator Schumer and FLEDC for working together towards this funding that will greatly benefit our harvesting/processing needs.”

The balance of the cost ($34,800) will be covered with a lease-to-own agreement with Finger Lakes Hops Processors (FLHP), a partnership between Climbing Bines and farmer Robert Timberman of Rock Stream. According to that agreement to be finalized Oct. 15, FLEDC will never be the operator of the equipment or take physical possession of it, and FLHP will make lease payments to FLEDC based on the structure of a seven-year, one-percent agricultural loan. At the end of the lease FLHP will purchase the equipment outright.

Steve Griffin, CEO of FLEDC says, “The grant through the USDA RBEG program allows us to continue our work to support and foster growth within the hops industry in Yates County. The grant will help us acquire equipment that will in turn allow smaller hop farms to become more efficient with their harvesting and processing efforts. We are thankful for the programs offered by USDA Rural Development and their continued support of our economic development efforts. Senator Schumer has been a great advocate and supporter for economic development in Yates County. His assistance in this grant is the latest example of that support and is most appreciated,” Griffin added.

New York State was once the national leader in hops production for U.S. beer producers, but experienced a drop in production due to a combination of factors. Hops farms bloomed between 1830 and 1849 to the point where New York became the national leader in production. By 1855, the region was raising over three million pounds annually and was responsible for 85 percent of all hops in America. This strength gradually declined due in large part to blight, changing climate conditions, competition from drier states in the Pacific Northwest, and Prohibition. As a result, the bulk of hops production shifted to small farms and home breweries, where it remains today.

Recently, the hops industry in New York has grown rapidly, and the number of breweries is expected to increase since the enactment of the N.Y. Farm Brewery Law, which requires participating breweries to use local hops and barley. There are many craft breweries springing up across the region that could benefit from local hops suppliers. The development of a vibrant hops-growing industry in the Finger Lakes will further boost tourism and economic prosperity.