Visitors to the former Plattsmouth Golf Course will no longer be hitting the links, but they will learn about Nebraska’s newest alternative crops, hops.
Hops are the female flower of the hop plant. They used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer and various purposes in other beverages and herbal medicines.
With the help of Nebraska Department of Economic Development and their own private funds, Bruce and Annette Wiles have turned the course into an agri- business complete with a 3-acre hops test plot, clubhouse/office and all the equipment needed to harvest their new crop.
The Wiles are co-founders and owners of Midwest Hop Producers, Nebraska Hop Yards and Midwest Hop Yard Supplies. Plattsmouth Chamber of Commerce conducted a ribbon cutting welcoming the enterprise to the area Aug. 19.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Cass County Economic Development Council Director Lisa Scheve, NDED Director Brenda Hicks Sorensen and Greater Omaha Chamber CEO and President David Brown joined the Wiles at the ceremony in welcoming this unique business to the state.
Brown thanked the Wiles for their “huge commitment toward investing in agri-business, the largest business in the state of Nebraska.”
The Wiles have already planted 3 acres and are currently installing 12 more this fall for a total of 15 acres. “Our goal is to establish 150 acres of hops in production during the next three to five years with the goal of providing hops for Nebraska brewers,” Bruce said.
Their plans involve a $3.5-million investment in site improvements, construction of a hops harvesting/drying/pelletizing facility and equipment.
In February, NDED awarded a $50,000 prototype grant to Midwest Hop Yard Supplies. Grant monies were used to purchase a mobile hop harvester and hire interns through InternNE to help with the operation.
“The harvester is on display here today and the Wiles can provide more information about how it works and how it is helping streamline the production process in ways that are galvanizing the entire craft beer industry,” Sorensen said.
Sorensen explained the NDED’s InternNE program helps match employers with qualified interns, “leading to on-the-job skills development for interns, and in some cases, leading businesses to find and hire valuable full-time employees post-graduation.”
She explained the hop yard is a first-of-its-kind production facility in Nebraska. “It is the stepping stone to full-scale opportunities for existing craft beer businesses and for entrepreneurs interested in developing value-added ag businesses focused on specialty craft beers,” Sorensen said.
A high priority for the state, Sorensen continued to say, is “attracting top talent to fill quality jobs that are created.”
“We are pleased that this project looks to create as many as 20 jobs here in the Plattsmouth area. I envision that this may be just the start of many more jobs created as the craft beer industry gains an even stronger foothold in Nebraska.”
Annette thanked everyone for attending the ribbon cutting and open house. She especially thanked her family for the support they provided for she and Bruce while they planned and established the business.
“We’re not done yet,” Bruce added.
Following the ceremony, the interns and Shad Clarke gave tours of the site. Clarke is the general manager of the operation.
Clarke has also been growing hops with Silas Clarke and Duffin Knudsen for the past four years. “I have two acres. Annette and Bruce contacted us,” he said.
The Wiles hired him and in May, they started planting. “This first year, they’ll get 10 to 20 percent production. It goes up from there,” Clarke said. “It takes the third or fourth year for full production.”
Hop plants produce well for 25 years, and continue to produce another 15 years. In the test plot, 22 different varieties have been planted. “A lot of them have not been tested in Nebraska. Hops are typically from the northwest – Oregon, Idaho and Washington,” Clarke said.
The test plot is 925-feet long and 160-feet wide. Although hops grow quickly, they require lots of water. Even with all the rain this spring and summer, they required additional watering. “Every 252 feet, we have an irrigation row, so we have control. We can change our watering scheduling for different varieties,” Clarke explained.
Interestingly enough, deer actually aid in hops production by stripping the leaves from the base of the plant to two or three feet upwards. Clarke said hops are prone to molding, so the removal of the leaves helps sunlight dry the area near the base of the plants.
The deer, however, don’t eat the hop flower, which contains the luplin glands. “That (luplin gland) is what brewers are looking for. It’s what makes the oils and where you get the different flavorings from,” Clarke said.
Typically, 1,000 plants produce 1,500 to 1,800 pounds of product.
Although hops are mainly used in beer production, it is not their only function. “They make hop candy, oils and pillows,” he said. “They are also used for some medicinal purposes.”
The demand for hops is constantly growing, he said. “There are crafters opening up all the time. Four just opened up in Nebraska in the last few months.”
Clarke said breweries were very common in Nebraska before Prohibition, which began in 1920.
“Plattsmouth had a brewery. Nebraska City had a brewery. People would gather there. When Prohibition hit, many brewers went into making soda. Many closed. The new breweries are a resurgence of that and local brewers are craving a local product,” Clarke said.
Now that Midwest Hop Producers, Nebraska Hop Yards and Midwest Hop Yard Supplies is open, that craving may be satisfied.
“I think back almost exactly one year ago, speaking with Annette about grants and other ways we could help her and Bruce realize this project,” Scheve said. “A year later, we’re celebrating a milestone announcement – and the impact new jobs and capital investment will have on our region. That, to me, is a special thrill.”