Reflections on Harvest Season

Fall harvest season has long been a part of my life.

Whether it was corn and soybean fields where I grew up in Minnesota, or cleaning up the garden with all the ripe tomatoes, onions, peppers to make my magical marinara, there was always something rewarding about seeing a growing season worth of work culminate in something real, quantifiable, valuable (and sometimes tasty).

Now being focused on the hops business, the harvest season has a different kind of risk/reward.

The stakes are much higher and it’s a different kind of effort.  Hops are one of the most labor intensive crops you can grow, right up there with wine grapes.  It requires a lot of capital investment to establish the crop, and the annual input costs never slow down.  Harvesting the bines that are twined up 18′ tall trellis requires equipment that you can’t buy down at the local John Deere dealer.  For a small acreage grower like us, we generally have to import much of the appropriate equipment from Germany or fabricate it ourselves (or a combination thereof).

I tell folks that being in the hops business is like the difference between the chicken and the pig in a bacon and eggs breakfast.  To the chicken its a contribution, to the pig, it’s a commitment.  Hops require that kind of commitment.  You’re either all-in, or you’re just not in.

If everything goes right (you stayed ahead of pests like aphids, spider mites, and powdery mildew), and you avoided calamities like hail or flooded fields, your beautiful tall green beauties will be loaded with aromatic hops cones by late summer.  Boy, do those ripe hop cones smell amazing as harvest time nears.

But getting them from the field to the harvester (ours is a 10,000 lb. Bavarian sweetie named Hildegard), can be a logistics challenge, and then you better either have a brewing kettle ready for fresh hops, a kiln, conditioning floor, baler and cold storage ready to take these dried hops into storage until they are ready to properly pelletize and package.

It’s also labor intensive, and there’s a time crunch to get them out of the field while they are at the peak of their aromatic ripeness, while keeping a wary eye out on the weather forecast.  There’s a saying that “hops are a timed event”.  They don’t wait for you.

But if it all goes good, watching an assembled team with vested interests perform like clockwork, getting a field done early, avoiding mechanical breakdowns, and getting the crop put up properly, and then exhaling with a nice hop-forward IPA…that’s the reward.  You can just feel the stress of the growing season being relieved from your neck and shoulders as you reflect on all the members of your team that made it all possible.

From helpful agronomy experts to vendors who got parts here on time, to the assembled team that contributed to every part of the spring rituals to harvest, thank you. And to our customers, thank you all for making this possible.

What a relief. What a reward.  It’s not for everybody, that’s for sure.