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Grower Interview – Jeff Hansen

OHGA:  WHEN DID YOU START GROWING?

The hopyard was built and planted in 2018.

OHGA:  WHAT VARITIES DO YOU HAVE AND HOW MANY ACRES?

Being totally new to the both the hops and beer industry we stuck with a couple of the 3 Cs for our 2.5-acre yard.  Our queue came from a study at the University of Vermont for growing success in this zone, choosing Cascade and Chinook which were both in the top 5. 

OHGA:  WHY DID YOU GET INTO THE HOPS INDUSTRY?

In 2012 we purchased our 10-acre hobby farm and sold the hay for a number of years.  Although not a large property we also had the notion that it could be more productive then some hay sales.  My wife Chantelle came across the idea of hops, and we began researching it in early 2018 amongst some other possibilities and liked the density of product for our small acreage.  At the time the data showed that planted hop yards could only account for about 2% of the demand in the province and craft breweries continue to grow so the market potential seemed to be there too.  We sufficiently underestimated all the warnings about the amount of work to grow and sell hops we were warned about and took the plunge later that year.

OHGA:  HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH YOUR HOPYARD NAME?

There was many discussion and solicitation of ideas from our 5 kids.  One of them came up with a close derivative of Happy Hour Hopyard.  We tweaked it for the alliteration, and I like that it touches on both what we do and our customers.

OHGA:  WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE OF EQUIPMENT?

Not starting on a working farm, I would probably say the tractor we added this year.  I continue to find ways to reduce the effort of manual tasks in the field with it and have a growing project list.

OHGA:  WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF YOUR HOP BUSINESS AND HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH IT?

As our plants have matured and are finally producing some volume, scaling our facilities has been a challenge along with the sales cycle.  All the growers have grappled with these parts of the business.  We have been talking with different growers and customers to try and understand what has worked and what hasn’t in order to be successful in the marketplace. 

OHGA:  WHICH PEST/WEED GIVES YOU’RE THE BIGGEST HEADACHE AND HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH IT?

Grass management is likely the biggest headache we have.  Although it hasn’t grossly affected the hop production, we continue to iterate our approach to minimize the amount of manual effort involved.

OHGA:  WHAT HAS BEEN A BIG LESSON LEARNED?

The biggest lesson we learned this harvest was scale and being ready for it.  We knew our scale would be much bigger in year 2 over year 1 but we were still scrambling during harvest.  Next year should produce another increase and we won’t underestimate it in the same way.

WHAT’S THE ONE ISSUE THAT YOU WOULD LIKE ADVICE FROM OTHER GROWERS?

In talking to other growers and hearing about the yards that have stopped growing, we know the sale cycle is a tough nut to crack.  There is more than enough hop demand in the province so it would be great to hear from other growers how they think we could work together as an industry to help collectively market and sell Ontario hops to Ontario brewers.

OHGA:  Thanks Jeff.  All the best with selling this year’s crop.

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