Ag Business Spotlight: Hop To It

Hops are a complex plant that when harvested and processed, are used to make beer. With the number of craft breweries in Alberta growing significantly over the last 5 years, more farmers are getting into the market by growing hops. The Bjarnasons were one of the first and after 5 years in operation remain one of the longest-running hops farms in the province. 

After Shayne & Jenelle purchased their acreage east of Lacombe, they began dreaming about how they could make the land work for them. With 25 acres to spare, surely there would be a crop they could grow on their land. With a passion for the craft beer industry and Jenelle's certification as level 1 agronomist the couple began their growing adventure and aptly named their business ‘Hop to It’ where they grow local, quality hops. The varieties grown are Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood, Northern Brewer, Columbus, Willamette – all with different features and tastes.

The Bjarnasons have learned that patience is key and that growing hops is of a labor of love. The plants take 3-5 years to reach maturity and 7-10 years to provide a return on investment. Part of the reason it takes so long for plants to reach maturity is that their taproots grow as far as 20 feet down into the ground! This means that when they’re at their full height there is as much plant above ground as there are roots underground. Each year after harvest the plants get cut down and by the next harvest, they’ve grown back up to the top of the 18-foot trellis.

The weather adds an interesting element as well, because hops like warmer weather but require a lot of water. When the dugout is full it’s not an issue but in drier years as we’ve experienced recently, it can present a challenge. As a new industry and a specialty farm, it can be next to impossible to insure a hops crop. There is a lot to learn so the other farmers in the province work together to grow awareness and share knowledge. 

To simplify the sharing of knowledge, the Bjarnasons have been members of the Alberta Hop Producers Association (AHPA) since opening in 2018. Jenelle is currently the Treasurer and works with a great group of people both on the board and on committees to move the industry ahead. They also plan some events, with the next one coming up on November 5th. The Alberta Freshtival will be held at the Red Deer location of Cilantro and Chive as a tap takeover featuring beers from Alberta craft breweries – all using AHPA member hops. 
Hop to It supplies hops to both Blindman Brewing in Lacombe and Hawktail in Rimbey so if you’ve been a customer with either of those businesses you may have already enjoyed the fruits of Shayne and Jenelle's labor. These breweries and others will join together for the November event and if you’re a craft beer enthusiast, it is not to be missed. 

Shayne and Jenelle shared that Lacombe County has been a great place to start their new venture. Neighbours and friends are always willing to help, which is of huge benefit when beginning something new. They love meeting new people in brewing, hop farming and ag industries and equally enjoy touring folks around their operation. You can’t help but get excited about hops after visiting with them and learning about this incredible plant!