Hops are native to North Dakota. In fact, they used to be produced in the state prior to prohibition. Hops plants are long bines (similar to a vine) that grow vertically on anything they can attach to. Cones are the harvested product you get at the end of the season. These cones are then used by brewers to make the beers you like. If only it were really that simple. There are many unique challenges for hops production, starting with a high trellis and high labor requirement. Our hopyard has not yet reached full production but we are excited to see it grow.
We will develop a production guide as we get more experience ourselves. In the meantime, Michigan State University has pretty good information for small scale hops producers.
Below is a list of things you will need to do and think about before establishing a hopyard, listed by relative importance.
1. Irrigation planning. Hops can use a gallon of water per day per plant. Irrigation is needed. Be sure you know where you can get water and how much at a given time. There are different ways to set it up. Underneath the mulch for our plants we put out 1/2" tubing with emitters on every plant. Without irrigation, don't bother with a hopyard.
2. Trellis design and setup. This is the part where you will probably spend most of your time. I will post a schematic at a later date, but as it stands we are modifying the design a bit this year. Other sites have very detailed instructions for this step. We use telephone poles in our trellis as they are the only thing we had reasonable access to that can get high enough. Most commercial hopyards have a trellis 18-20' high. At the top of the trellis there are several configurations possible for cable rigging that will allow your plants to grow up. Twine will be attached to that cable and run down to each plant below. Logistically trellis setup is the most challenging component. We were fortunately to have neighbors with equipment that allowed us to safely install the poles and rigging.
3. Post-harvest processing. Most brewers do not want the hops right from your field. Almost all hops are first dried to ~10% moisture (optimum harvest moisture is around 70%) and then pelleted. You will need on-site drying. Pelleting can be done by you or contracted through someone else. If you are a homebrewer then you can use the hops however you want. Otherwise you should contact a brewery before planting hops to see what varieties they will want and how they want them prepared before delivery. This will also help you and the brewer plan ahead.
4. Variety selection. This is tied to #3. Most hops varieties appear to do well in ND. But be sure to plant what the brewers want. Beer recipes call for specific varieties. If your variety is not on their recipe card, it may not get sold. Besides that, there are also other considerations. Varieties have different yield potentials and different pest resistance profiles. The bottom line is that you should get to know your variety before planting it. You also need to think about whether you want live plants or rhizomes. Rhizomes are the most common way to plant hops, but live plants have better establishment success, although they can cost more.
5. Harvesting. Mechanical harvesters are expensive and not easily available in ND. Hand harvesting is labor intensive. Pick your poison.
6. Fertility management. Hops are high consumers of nitrogen. There are many ways to fertilize hops, just make sure you have a plan to do so.
Here are the varieties that we grow: