Only a handful of Iowans grow the crop, but the harvest of hops was completed this month around the state. Beer makers use hops to balance flavor. They’re picked from the vine and resemble brussel sprouts and Brita Nelson — a partner at Driftless Edge Farms near Decorah — says hops typically grow well in Iowa.”Especially if you can adequately input the right amount of moisture and control for that, which was obviously pretty difficult this year, they can literally grow like weeds,” Nelson says. “They can literally grow a foot in a day, it’s amazing.” The few Iowans who have commercial hop yards grow the plants on an acre or less of land.
“The people growing hops that I know of are all kind of like we are, we’re all younger, we don’t have a ton of money for land, and we’re trying to look for a way to be farmers but not necessarily in the way you might think of it typically when you think of an Iowa farmer,” Nelson says. Driftless Edge Farms, which has about 1,000 vines, supplies home brewers in northeast Iowa, and they’re hoping to export hops to a brewery in Taiwan.
Nelson says the wet spring and dry summer reduced this year’s expected yield by about half.