As the nation raises a toast to American Craft Beer Week, it’s clear that Iowa is leveraging the trend, thanks to creative Iowa farmers and craft brewers. In the past five years, the number of craft breweries in Iowa has increased a whopping 125 percent, mirroring national trends of rising consumer demand for craft or microbrews. And, with up to three pounds of hops needed for a keg of IPA brew, a growing number of Iowa farmers are jumping on that trend by diversifying their farms and growing hops.
Thanks to the popularity of microbrews, U.S. hops acreage has exploded by more than 95 percent in the past five years. And, with a $860 million economic impact in Iowa, the state’s craft beer sector is also bringing jobs and other opportunities to rural Iowa, where many farmers continue to seek ag diversity as traditional crop and commodity prices continue to lag.
Christian Petersen, a horticulturist at Buck Creek Farms, Iowa’s largest hops farm in Solon, credits the microbrew trend as the reason for Buck Creek’s success and growth. “The whole reason the farm started was because of the craft beer boom,” Petersen explains. “We get calls all the time from people wanting to grow and people wanting to buy. People are looking for an alternative to the conventional commodities like corn and soybeans.” Peace Tree Brewery, another rural Iowa-based business that has capitalized on the local craft beer movement, was recognized with Iowa Farm Bureau’s Renew Rural Iowa (RRI) Entrepreneur Award for its role creating jobs and rejuvenating downtown Knoxville, the home of Peace Tree.
Megan McKay, who founded Peace Tree in 2009, has been praised by local residents and economic development officials for creating the “spark” that launched the brewery in Knoxville. “Peace Tree Brewing Company is right here on Main Street in Knoxville,” McKay says. “We founded it with an idea of redeveloping downtown, and putting some old buildings back to use and creating a place where people want to come and visit and create local tourism.”
Iowa hops farmers do face challenges during the growing season. Hops are a very labor-intensive crop, and with more than 50 hops varieties, not all plants have the same soil, fertilizer or water demands. Growing enthusiasm for hops with more aroma also leads to selection of varieties which traditionally produce smaller yields. Growing hops also takes patience; since it typically takes 3-4 years for the first hops crop to be ready to brew, so changing the hops varieties planted represents a major overhaul for the farm.
As a general farm organization, now 100-years strong, Iowa Farm Bureau has always supported the diversification of agriculture and that often requires providing new avenues to encourage new ideas and help rural communities prosper. Rural craft brewers and hops farmers, hoping to tap into business mentoring, turn to IFBF’s Renew Rural Iowa program to help grow their dreams of success. Over the past 11 years, the RRI program has helped more than 3,000 business leaders and entrepreneurs recognize their potential by connecting them with the resources needed to develop and grow their business vision and have helped create more than $125 million in economic impact.
“Creating opportunities in Iowa’s smaller communities helps family farmers keep farming,” says Sandy Ehrig, Iowa Farm Bureau economic development administrator. “The boom that we’ve seen in the Iowa craft beer industry is certainly one way to do that, and we’ve seen the industry have a positive impact across the state through economic growth, and job creation while helping farmers embrace diversification on their farms. We encourage farmers and other Iowans interested in craft brewing to visit www.renewruraliowa.com and attend one of our seminars on starting a small business.”
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