I was privileged to be one of the approximately 340 people to attend the second annual Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference March 16‒17 in Traverse City. The conference was sponsored by Michigan State University and the Michigan Brewers Guild (MBG). Prominent speakers from around the country and the university provided sessions on horticultural practices, pest and disease control, harvest and post-harvest practices, nutrient management and much more. The conference also included expert panels featuring producers, industry representatives and brewers. This year, attendees also had the opportunity to go on a tour of MI LOCAL, Michigan’s newest and largest hop operation with 200 acres planted in 2015 that will be ready for harvest this coming fall.
MSU Extension has collaborated with the MBG on nearly every hop and barley educational program that we have developed over the last eight years. Our close working relationship with the MBG has really been instrumental in connecting hop and barley producers with brewers. The director of the MBG, Scott Graham, received the Friend of Extension Award at the 2015 Fall Extension Conference for his efforts; we are light-years ahead of where we would have been without this excellent working relationship.
MSU Extension educator Rob Sirrine provides statewide leadership for hop research, education and outreach in collaboration with other staff members. MSU Extension hosts multiple educational programs throughout the year and the Great Lakes Hop and Barley Conference is the main highlight. Rob also represents Extension on the newly formed Hop Growers of America Best Practices Advisory Committee. MSU Extension educator Erin Lizotte provides her integrated pest management expertise. She coordinates the Great Lakes Hop Working Group that she formed with Rob two years ago. The group is composed of educators, researchers and other industry professionals that share information to benefit growers in their region. Dr. Mary Hausbeck, University Distinguished Professor, Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, and her graduate student Doug Higgins have been working to develop downy mildew control strategies over the last two years, and Dr. Bernie Zandstra, MSU professor in the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, will be researching weed control options in the upcoming year.
MSU Extension educator Ashley McFarland has provided statewide leadership for malting barley research, education and outreach for the past three years. Projects have included collaboration with many field crop Extension personnel throughout the state in an attempt to support this reemerging crop in response to the burgeoning craft beverage industry. In addition to variety and management trials, the program also connects farmers with entrepreneurs in the newly developed craft malting market. Ashley is supported by Christian Kapp, MSU crop research technician at the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center. Ashley also serves on the National Barley Improvement Committee.
In Michigan, the craft beer industry is relatively young, but it is experiencing tremendous growth and making its mark nationally. According to the Michigan Brewers Guild, Michigan ranks fifth in the nation in number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs. We are competitive on a national scale, but it’s also important to recognize the impact to Michigan residents. Data released by the Brewers Association show that in 2014, craft brewing in Michigan was responsible for 14,773 full-time jobs and $571.6 million in wages, and it contributed $1.85 billion in economic impact to our state. The Brewers Association reports that national growth of small and independent brewers continues to rise. As the craft industry grows, there will be an increased need for research-based resources and opportunities where MSU Extension can partner with the industry to facilitate its growth.