The High Desert’s hop growing industry is expanding across the region with six local farms working together as the Central Oregon Hop Growers.
For the third year, the farms, in Tumalo and Terrebonne, welcomed curious beer enthusiasts Saturday for the 2017 Central Oregon Hop Farm Tour. The tour shed light on farming the aromatic flower, a key ingredient on beer.
Craig Conner and his wife, Brenda Reddaway, came from their home in Tualatin for the hop tour. They started in Terrebonne at the Smith Rock Hop Farm and the Wilhelm Brauerei, a backyard garden of hops cared for by Terrebonne resident Jim Wilhelm, 64, whose son, Miles, works for Smith Rock Hop Farm.
Conner and Reddaway, both pharmacists, own a 7-acre property outside Terrebonne and are interested in using some of the acreage as a hop farm. Their tour on Saturday was as much educational as it was entertainment.
“We were thinking about trying to grow other things on the property and hops is one of the things we are thinking about,” Reddaway said. “We are kind of planning for the future.”
Conner was impressed with the 900 hop plants growing on 1 acre at Smith Rock Hop Farm. When Conner was at Jim Wilhelm’s backyard garden, Wilhelm encouraged him to start small, maybe just growing a small plot of hops.
Conner appreciated the advice, knowing he is still in the hobby phase of growing hops.
“There is a big barrier to entry on a lot of these things,” Conner said. “You don’t want to make a huge commitment and find out no one will buy it.”
Miles Wilhelm, who runs Smith Rock Hop Farm with two others, said the Willamette and Yakima valleys get a lot of attention in the hop growing industry, but Central Oregon is not far behind.
The High Desert climate is ideal for hops, Wilhelm said.
“Our days our longer and that’s what the hops want,” he said. “We have hot, dry temperatures and long days and that’s fantastic.”
Each of the farms in Central Oregon are discussing a way to cooperate to handle larger orders from breweries. Most of the farms supply a couple of hundred pounds to local breweries. Cascade Hop Farm in Tumalo, farming on more than three acres, can deliver about 1,000 pounds of hops in a day. The Tumalo farm broke ground on an additional five acres this year.
“The idea is for all the hop growers to get a co-op together so that every year if we have a brewer wanting 600 pounds of hops, we can give 600 pounds,” Wilhelm said. “And putting together a co-op, we can get the machinery to help us all.”
For Jim Wilhelm — who grows his backyard hop garden as a hobby — there is more to the industry than building business.
“The main reason I do this is to spend time with my son,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820,