Idaho’s Panhandle Crop
PHOTOGRAPHY Woods Wheatcroft
(page 3 of 4)
In Idaho and nationwide, the number of hops farms is in steady decline. Demand hasn’t lessened, but in the age of centralized industrial agriculture, small-scale operations rarely turn a steady profit. Where 400 acres were once enough for a farmer to make a living, today’s hops farms average about 700 acres, and big farms like Elk Mountain exceed 1,000 acres.
The up-front costs for a young farm are prohibitive. High-quality rootstock, which must be replanted about every fifteen years, is not cheap. Neither is the specialized farming and processing equipment needed to harvest, bale and dry Humulus lupulus. Up-front costs for a typical working hop farm tally about $7,000 an acre. In all but the best years, it is a break-even proposition.
Still, there are at least 270 hops growers operating in the U.S. today, second only to Germany as the largest-producing country in the world. Washington’s Yakima Valley produces the bulk of American hops on more than 40,000 acres. Oregon and Idaho round out the top three states.
Here in Idaho, hop-farming has been led by two families, the Batts and the Goodings. Former Republican Governor Phil Batt’s family planted the arid Treasure Valley west of Boise in 1934, and Batt was a grower before being elected governor in 1995. Today, the Idaho Hops Growers Association is led by Mike Gooding, whose family left Oregon to grow hops under Idaho’s big skies in the 1940s. Then, as today, Treasure Valley hops growers made their living on the Wilder Bench, a fertile strip of land near the confluence of the Boise and Snake rivers and home to the farming communities of Greenleaf, Wilder and Roswell. >>>