Hop network infuses craft brewing industry


Hop growers and enthusiasts can now join a new membership-based organization that strives to strengthen and promote quality statewide craft brewing.

The Right Place, based in Grand Rapids, and Barry County Economic Development Alliance, based in Hastings, recently announced the establishment of a nonprofit association known as Michigan Hop Network, with the support of regional partners and statewide hop growers.

Valerie Byrnes, president of the Barry County Economic Development Alliance, said she worked with Rick Chapla, vice president of business development at The Right Place, in the beginning stages of bringing hop growers together.

“This is just a really great example of a model where we saw a need in the industry and our economic community responded,” said Byrnes.

Jeff Steinman, owner of Hop Head Farms and board chair of the new hop network, said for a while now hop growers from all over the state have wanted to form an organization to promote quality and consistency in the industry.

“I’m very pleased that this has finally come about. It’s actually several years in the making,” said Steinman. “It is a very good feeling.”

The Michigan Hop Network is a membership and nonprofit-based organization dedicated to promoting and improving the hop-growing market in the state. Not only will the association provide support and educational services to members, but it also will facilitate best practice exchanges, techniques and knowledge. The association also has enlisted the help of higher education institutions for research and development of hop horticulture and processing, such as Michigan State University’s Product Center and Extension office.

“The first meeting was a hop growers summit that included microbrewers,” said Byrnes in reference to a meeting that took place several years ago. “We knew we were on to something when it was a Saturday morning, dead of winter in February, there was a snowstorm, and we still had 120 hop growers and brewers show up.”

The goal of the network is to strengthen the state’s craft-brewing supply chain, and it may partner with other organizations to advance the interest of Michigan hop growers and craft brewing.

“The model we talked about was using some of the more professional resources as more of an advisory group rather than just being part of the standard partnership,” said Byrnes. “That includes MSU and MEDC — anyone that can bring other types of resources to the table that could help the growers move their effort forward.”

Steinman said one of the initial goals of the network is to bring professional growers throughout the state together to identify where everybody is located and what varieties are grown so craft brewers are aware of nearby resources. Continuing qualitative brewing and maintaining the reputation of Michigan hop brewing is another important goal of the network.

The MSU Extension Office reported more than 200 acres of commercial hops grown in 2013 in Michigan, with more than 100 additional acres planned for 2014.

“It’s getting to be part of an invoked thing,” said Steinman in reference to opening a brewery. “A few bad apples could spoil the whole thing. We want to make sure everyone has the right information so the industry can grow.”

In addition to educational programming, part of enlisting the aid of universities is to dial in on fertilization and pest control management, according to Steinman.

The network’s founding members filed paperwork with the state for official nonprofit status and recently completed the organization’s bylaws. A grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., along with support from the Barry County Economic Development Alliance and The Right Place, helped with funding and creation of the new statewide network.

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