Florida farmers eyeing hops as new niche crop

Florida farmers eyeing hops as new niche crop

With declining profits in the citrus industry, some farmers in Florida are turning attention to hops, a new niche crop that can tap into the state's growing beer-brewing business. Hops' pungent flowers or buds are used by brewers as the building blocks of flavor and aroma of beer. Acids found in hops produce bitterness, while the plant's oils give beer a floral/citrus aroma, depending on the type of plant.

Mostly hops are grown in areas with cooler climates, such as Germany in Europe and Washington in the U.S. Florida was traditionally considered too warm and humid to grow hops.

Home-brewing horticulturist Brian Pearson of the University of Florida did his own research and planted a few plants of hops. Those plants have since grown into hundreds of plants, suggesting that Florida has found a new cash crop.

Speaking on the topic, Pearson said, "The amount of phone calls from brewers wanting them, the amount of phone calls from growers wanting to grow them, has been incredibly overwhelming."

Production of hops has increased significantly over the past few years, but it is still hard for several breweries to find the aroma hops. In 2014, roughly a fifth of brewers couldn't get Amarillo and Citra hops. Thus, the shortage of aroma hops has created a promising opportunity for Florida farmers.