ASHLAND — The Rogue Valley hasn’t been a hotbed for hop growing.
The largest plantation outside Grants Pass was uprooted in the 1980s and a mom-and-pop operation off Butler Creek Road has provided hops for local brewers for nearly a decade.
Now, the largest grow south of the Willamette Valley is going up on Bear Creek Ranch of Oregon, next to the southbound lanes of Interstate 5.
Portland brewer Justin Fay, owner of Base Camp Brewing Co., is installing 4 1/2 acres of hops on the ranch owned by his parents, Mark and Rebecca Fay.
“Since I started my business plan many years ago, this has been one of the things that interested me,” Justin Fay said. “My idea is to bring back agriculture into the beer world, similar to where wineries with the grapes growing around them. It’s an organic agriculture product.”
Although organic practices will be used, the product won’t have an organic label, he said. “We are not going to go through the paperwork nightmare to get there.”
Base Camp Brewing Co. will consume the majority of the hops, beginning with the fall 2019 harvest, but will sell to other brewers once the farm is in full production.
Before launching Base Camp in 2012, Fay worked at Klamath Basin Brewing in his hometown of Klamath Falls.
“At that time, we figured Portland was the best market for survivability,” he said.
By 2015, Base Camp was No. 25 on the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s barrel sales list, with production of 4,463 barrels. Last year, the brewer was No. 35 with production of 3,977 barrels.
Ultra Gnar Gnar India Pale Ale, with big-hop taste, and S’more Stout — topped with a marshmallow at in-house pours — are two of the Base Camp’s popular brews, Fay said.
Hop production is a move toward vertical integration, he said.
“It’s a challenging time for many small breweries,” Fay said. “This planting will help during fluctuations in the market. Our yields are somewhat unknown because of the growing conditions.”
Hop Growers of America, based in Moxee, Washington, estimates establishing hop yards cost a minimum of $40,000 an acre, including the cost of land, growing supplies, rootstock, labor, additional farm equipment, harvesting, drying facilities, cold storage warehouses and packaging equipment.
“The industry is facing some issues right now,” said Dave Losh, a USDA statistician in Portland. “Even though craft brewing is increasing, consumption is down the last four to five years in the U.S. and on a worldwide basis. Competition is growing from other beverages — ciders and kombucha and spirits.”
Hop acreage strung for harvest in 2018 for Washington, Oregon and Idaho is forecast at a record high 55,339 acres, 4 percent more than last year’s previous record of 53,282 acres, according to the USDA. Washington’s 39,273 acres of harvested hops account for 71 percent of the total U.S. acreage. Idaho recently surpassed Oregon as the No. 2 grower with 8,217 acres, or 15 percent of U.S. production, while Oregon accounts for 14 percent, or 7,849 acres, production.
“Idaho, particularly in the Parma area, is adding a lot of hops, replacing crops,” Losh said. “The value of land is a lot less than in Oregon and the Willamette Valley, so it costs less to put in new acreage there.”
He added the average per-acre yield is $8,342 for hops in comparison with $563 for hay.
Losh said hops are among the most labor-intensive of crops,
“It takes a bigger crew and almost everything is done by hand, from planting to stringing the bines down, training the hops, and on harvest, separating cones from plant and drying and baling,” Losh said. “It’s intensified because labor is always short.”
The majority of the 236-acre Bear Creek Ranch of Oregon will continue to produce hay for horse and livestock owners, Fay said.
There are two types of hop: bitter or aromatic. The craft brew industry leans heavily toward the aromatic side, providing an array of flavors. Fay will start with five aromatic varieties: Centennial, Chinook, Nugget, Galena and Mount Hood for fall 2019.
“We’ll probably add to that next year,” he said. “We use a lot more different types of hops than those and always will because of different recipes calling for different things.”
The long-awaited poles from southern Idaho are now in place. Next, the rhizomes, an underground stem that produces buds, will go in, followed by trellis work.
“We hope we can finish next month,” he said. “We have the space and capability to do more hops sometime in the future, but we’ll have to see.”
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness or www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.