Farmers: Hop on hops!

Photo of hops by Hagen Graebner, via Wikimedia Commons.

New York's one-time cash crop, hops, is on the rise again. Yesterday, the Greene County Industrial Development Agency and Cornell Cooperative Extension announced that the state will fund a hops-growing experiment in Athens next year, in the hope that the nation's growing love of craft beer will make the crop a bonanza.

Both the Daily Mail and the Daily Freeman have the story. The Daily Mail quotes a breathless Brian Lawlor, commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal:

The strategy outlined today taps the potential of the hops industry and microbrew business to create jobs, meet the demand for quality local food and beverages, and revitalize rural New York.

When was the last time so many economic hopes were pinned on an overgrown herb? One hundred years ago, before Prohibition, when hops were king in New York, according to an article in the Yates County Observer-Review.

The hops revival is a statewide phenomenon. The Observer-Review story profiles farmers in the Finger Lakes region who are turning to hops.  This summer, the Utica Observer-Dispatch ran a similar story about a hops-growing farmer in the Mohawk Valley who is already supplying a local brewery with his crop:

Today, Fisher has the only hops farm in Madison County. Foothill Farms provides the key beer ingredient for several brew pubs and hobby home brewers throughout the country, and has expanded into an agri-tourism business that features free tours, a petting zoo and a gift shop. In April, Empire Brewing Company bar and restaurant in Syracuse produced a beer with Fisher’s organic Cascade hops. The next step, he said, is to gradually expand production until the Route 46 field can yield enough hops for a potential deal with Utica’s F.X. Matt Brewing Co., maker of Saranac beers.