Our June 2021 grower interview featured Mark Whitmore from The Great Canadian Hop Company near Turkey Point, Ontario.
OHGA: When did you start growing?
Mark Whitmore: We started building our first yard in 2015 with plants going in 2016.
OHGA: What varieties do you have, and how many acres?
Mark Whitmore: We have 3 acres currently; we would like to expand but will hold off until we see sufficient demand. Currently we have 32 varieties in the ground, which wasn’t always the plan but we ended up here. 32 varieties poses its own set of challenges – keeping track of location, managing the harvest timing, doing short-runs of harvests, processing, drying, pelletizing and finally managing the inventory in the freezers. That said, we have 3 more varieties in the greenhouse that we hope to have ready for the 2022 season.
OHGA: Why did you get into the hops industry?
Mark Whitmore: Like a lot of folks, we were looking for something a bit different that would work with our farm. Our farm used to grow tobacco and has lots of small fields, which was not a good fit for most crops. We felt hops was an opportunity to add value to the farm without requiring significant land to do so. I also liked the idea that hops involved some aspect of processing, in terms of drying, pelletizing and packaging, so it was more than just growing. Finally, I believe Canada’s brand is known and respected globally so there could be an opportunity to export our product to other countries.
OHGA: How did you come up with your hopyard name?
Mark Whitmore: Great question! I cannot remember how we came up with the name. I think it goes back to my belief that Canada is a world leader in all aspects of agriculture. I would love to see Canadian hops have similar success on a global stage.
OHGA: What is your favourite piece of equipment?
Mark Whitmore: I bought a Hops Harvester for the 2nd season. The first year we harvested by hand, but like a lot of folks you only do that once. I like the fact that it’s low-tech; chains, gears, belts – no electronics.
OHGA: What is the most challenging part of your hop business, and how are you dealing with it?
Mark Whitmore: It’s all challenging, but the biggest challenge is selling. The most effective way to sell is doing so in person, which requires a significant commitment of time. I am hoping this fall to get back in the habit of visiting brewers in person.
OHGA: Which pest/weed gives you the biggest headache, and how do you deal with it?
Mark Whitmore: Grasses! I keep evolving my approach, but it’s a combination of chemical (specifically Select) and mechanical (roto-tilling beside the hop row to keep the aisle grasses in the aisle)
OHGA: What has been a big lesson learned?
Mark Whitmore: Be ready to change. I really don’t like the term pivot, but it’s probably the right term here. The focus for my hop business has gone through 2-3 changes in the last 6 years and likely will evolve again, as we look for the right mix of customers to focus on to help increase our revenues.
OHGA: What’s the one issue that you would like advice from other growers on?
Mark Whitmore: If anyone has advice on how to better handle grasses, let me know.