By Jamie Rieger
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Expecting their first year of growing hops to be met with limited success, Vauxhall-area business partners Spencer Peterson and Ryan Adams have quickly learned of the high demand for their product.
The idea for growing hops in the region came after a family vacation to the Okanagan where they visited vineyards and found the wine industry to be interesting, but with a saturated market.
The two were already looking to start up a specialty crop venture and when they came across a farm that had moved from grapes to hops, they discovered they had tapped into a great business idea.
Peterson and Adams formed Pair O’Dice Hops believing that the climate and access to irrigation would be great factors in building a successful hop business.
“Irrigation is quite important because these are very thirsty plants,” said Adams.
Last fall, they planted 100 plants on a quarter-acre of Peterson’s eight-acre property. This quickly grew to 1,000 plants on one-and-one-quarter acres and planted more than a dozen varieties in their inaugural season which was used for wet hop brews when harvested.
Their first harvest has been a success, exceeding expectations laid out in their business plan. The hops from this harvest went to micro-breweries in Strathmore and Calgary.
“We knew we would have limited success the first year, but we have achieved our goal and next year, we want to go for 12-15,000 hectoliters and go up to two acres,” said Adams, who manages the business side; while Peterson, an agronomist, looks after the operations side.
Twenty-foot poles and trellises are required to grow the plants which take two years to develop a robust root crown and three years to fully develop. The duo understand the value of sustainability, composting agriculture material to be used for fertilizer and constructing their trellises from recycled products.
The demand for hops increased in Alberta after the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission announced in December 2013 that it was removing it’s minimum production requirements.
“The Alberta government removed the 20,000-Hectoliter minimum production for craft breweries. With it being reduced down to zero, it has resulted in a big increase in liquor manufacturers. Two years ago, there were 25 in Alberta; now there are 68 liquor manufacturers,” he said.
Most recent, hops growers in the province have formed an association to assist with information-sharing, marketing, and cost-sharing. Adams is one of eight charter members and a director of the newly formed Alberta Hop Producers’ Association.
“We formed to one, share information. Because we are a new industry, this is very important. Two, we can market together, and three, we have the opportunity to share costs for things like the specialty rope we need, or for fertilizing or palletizing equipment, a lot which comes from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.”
The Alberta Hop Producers’ Association officially launched on Nov. 18, 2017, at the Craft Beer Market in Edmonton. Beer brewed by Outcast Brewing, using hops from Pair O’Dice Hops, was available for tasting.
“People who have never tried beer from a micro-brewery really need to get out there and enjoy some Alberta barley,” said Adams.