Brian Farkas, department head and professor of food sciences at Purdue University, discusses the opportunities for farmers and brewers to work together in Indiana. Farkas, along with others in the Purdue College of Agriculture, is working to begin research on small grains, such as hops.
Brian Farkas, department head and professor of food sciences at Purdue University, discusses the opportunities for farmers and brewers to work together in Indiana. Farkas, along with others in the Purdue College of Agriculture, is working to begin research on small grains, such as hops.
INDIANAPOLIS — A group of farmers and brewers met in the Glass Barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds to talk about ways to work together.

The event was held to help business owners brainstorm with researchers and Extension specialists about how to make hop farming a viable industry in the state.

Currently, Indiana brewers import hops. The meeting emphasized that if more farmers grew inputs that could be used to make local beer, more dollars could be kept in the state.

“Hopefully, this is the first of many meetings that will start to happen between the farmers of Indiana and the brewers that we have here,” said Jill Pritchard, program manager of diversified agriculture at the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.

“This is a conversation that seems to have been bubbling underneath the surface for a while now. The goal is to take a first step toward identifying short-term needs and opportunities.”

Purdue University research assistant Natasha Cerruti is leading hops research efforts in the Horticulture Department this summer.

Cerruti plans to study growing conditions, diseases and pests, as well as costs, of growing hops.

“One huge issue is irrigation,” she said. “How much to irrigate, when to irrigate, how often. Hops rot easily. It’s important to let the hops dry out between watering. That’s something we’re going to look into.”

Services Needed

Farmers expressed a desire for Purdue to provide chemical analysis services of hops, spray schedules and budget sheets.

Brian Farkas, department head and professor of the Food Science Department, said that many of these services may be available down the road, but it will take time.

In the meantime, the Agronomy Department has made an offer to hire a small grains faculty member who could assist brewers and hops growers.

“The brewing industry is growing massively,” Farkas said. “There’s plenty of market out there. Everywhere you go, you hear people talking about craft beers. It’s more than something to drink. It’s something to get excited about.

“People move to places like Indiana and North Carolina because of the quality of life, and part of that is the products we produce. Food science is where raw materials come together to turn into a final produce for consumption. Now, we need to look at how we fit in with brewing.”

Farkas would like to hire another faculty member with experience in chemical analysis. This person would work on analyzing hops to ensure quality.

The Food Science Department has the capacity to hold beer sensory trials, as well as the possibility for a pilot brewing lab.

“We’d like to be able to put in a small-scale fermentation unit — where farmers growing various grains and hops could do some analysis and work with brewers on acceptability and quality attributes to help the industry,” Farkas said.

“From my experience, the biggest hindrance from the (hops) industry growing and surviving is quality of hops.”

Michael Wilcox, economics and community development assistant program leader at Purdue, also is working to make hops a feasible industry.

“We’re starting up a program called ‘Rebuilding your Local Food System,’” he said.

“The assumption there is that we had a local food system, the system went away and we’re at a point where we import about 90 percent of our food into Indiana, and we wind up sending all of our food elsewhere.”

Wilcox, who is a craft brewery supporter, would like to work with others in order to develop Indiana’s beer industry. Other states, such as Michigan, have more expertise in the field.

More meetings between farmers and brewers are expected to be planned this summer. For more information, contact Pritchard at jpritchard@isda.in.gov.