High hopes for hops
Kendall brothers started their own farm last year
KENDALL – Hops is making a comeback in New York, which once led the country in hops production before Prohibition, and two Kendall brothers are using the revived interest in the crop to start their own farm.
State incentives to grow micro-breweries and the craft beer industry have created a demand for hops, a plant that adds flavor and taste to beer.
The crop takes a lot of work, but it’s also a high-value product in a niche market. That’s a perfect recipe for two brothers just starting out, who don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on planters, combines and grain storage facilities.
Last year Chris and Justin Whipple purchased a 92-acre farm off Norway Road in Kendall. They planted an acre of hops, building a 16-foot-high trellis system to hang the tall bines. The brothers grow corn on the other 91 acres, contracting with another farmer to have it harvested.
Both Chris, 31, and Justin, 28, continue to work for other farmers. When they finish working for the other farmers, the brothers work evenings and weekends on their own farm.
They don’t mind all the effort.
“This is really a dream come true,” Justin said today at the farm. “It was always our goal and our dream to have our own farm.”
The two both have college degrees from Brockport State College. Chris earned a degree in accounting and Justin earned a bachelor’s in finance. They worked desk jobs for a couple years and hated it.
“I didn’t like the professional world and the professional world didn’t like me,” Chris said.
The two Holley graduates watched the state’s efforts to grow the craft beer industry, hoping to create destinations much like wine trails. They researched the crop, and they saw it as a way to farm on their own without an enormous capital investment.
The crop, however, is labor intensive, especially during the harvest. The brothers have had 30 friends and family helping to pick hops off the bines. Their wives have been by their side, even when the plants need weeding.
Carrie married Justin on June 30, 2012. On their honeymoon, they stopped by a hops farm in Oregon. Carrie works as a health educator. Amanda is married to Chris and she works as a speech pathologist.
Amanda and Carrie both exclaimed about the beauty of the hops when they grow tall and sway in the wind.
“It’s beautiful to watch them,” Amanda said.
The hops take three years to produce a mature crop. This year the plants are yielding about a third of their potential. Next year there should be a full crop for the first time.
The brothers have purchased a pelletizer to put the hops in a form desired by craft breweries. They expect they will process hops for other growers as well.
They also expect to double their hops field, planting another acre of the crop next year. State-wide there are about 100 acres of hops.
Justin said it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture, with the state encouraging niche farms and the public responding to the products.
“Growing up we were told there was no future in farming,” Justin said. “But right now there are a lot of opportunities, and it’s actually a lot of fun.”