Hops offer hope for economy

Feb 12, 2013

Heidi Dunkelberg’s vision of embracing both the old and the new economy in one stroke by capitalizing on the popularity of beer in the region is a good one.

Dunkelberg has been growing hops for five years now and sees the crop as a chance to expand the agricultural product base.

The problem is, hops growing is labor intensive, and the output is small. The berries can be frozen, so year-around production isn’t needed, but quantity is key. That’s why local growers will need to work together to produce a unique product. Done right, the crop has the potential of replacing burley tobacco as the cash cow that once provided needed revenue for small farmers in the county.

Hops provide the flavoring in beer, and the emergence of craft breweries in Western North Carolina creates an opportunity. Hops grown in one area have a different flavor than those grown elsewhere, and the craft brewery industry is all about providing a unique product. To be successful, the county will need to provide enough hops to produce a marketable, brand-name beer that can be consistently good.

The product would not only meet agriculture’s needs, but could be something to draw tourists to the area as well. Haywood County ale is an idea we could take to the bank.