Supply and demand. It’s one of the few things I remember from Mr. Slenker’s 12th grade economics class, a compulsory course for high school graduation in New York state. This is no knock against the teacher, but I really didn’t get into the course content. My first period draw of this barnburner really didn’t help my cause, not that I’m responsive to much at 7:50 a.m. as an adult.
Where was I…right, supply and demand. The craft beer explosion of the past few years has led to massive demand for hops. The problem is that drought, blight and changing weather patterns have led to supply shortages worldwide. Germany, which accounts for one-third of the world’s hop supply, saw production down by a quarter in 2015. So, low supply + high demand = record prices for hops and higher beer prices. This came up in discussion with the guys at Mispillion River last summer and they said it helped drive their brewing philosophy.
In a roundabout way, this brings us to the subject of the fifth Al Dente Q&A. Chad Meigs is a web developer and information architect. He also owns a four-acre hop farm near the Madison County town of Cazenovia. Madison County was once a world leader in hop production, but Prohibition and blight took care of that. Hop farming has experienced a rebirth in the area and Meigs has staked his claim in the industry. His farm, The Bineyard (and on Facebook), grows a variety of hops for sale to breweries, but what sets him apart is the gamechanger in his arsenal and I’m not talking about his wife, tech marketing expert Kate Brodock. No, I’m talking about the WOLF.
So, meet Chad Meigs: homebrewer, hop grower, web developer, and the father of (as of a few weeks ago) two sons. He’s also the fifth guest of the Al Dente Q&A.
What got you into homebrewing?
I’ve always enjoyed beer. HA! I caught the home brewing bug when I had the room to do so. When my wife Kate and I moved to Cazenovia from Boston my friend MikeBike bought me a homebrew kit and I brewed outside on my deck. I was hooked.
Clearly, homebrewing was the gateway to hop farming. How did you make that leap?
Now that Kate and I live in the country we figured we should use our land. We also got involved in the local craft brew scene, and there was the start of what’s now a much larger conversation about hops in CNY. Our first house in Caz had a small barn that I decided it would be a good idea to some hop bines up against. We purchased two Galena and two Pearl rhizomes along with four strands of coir (hop rope) and tossed them in the ground.
What brought about The Bineyard?
The Bineyard came about the following year. We planted about 1/4 acre of hops, which comes out to 150 “hills”: 50 Cascades, 50 Willamette and 50 Nugget rhizomes in the ground. Our trellis was 15 cedar poles towering 18 feet into the air.
This isn’t your primary job. What is your day job?
Believe it or not, agriculture and specifically hops is not in my background. I got my degree in Computer Science and worked in Boston for many years. I have about 18 years of professional experience in programming and computer architecture. These days hops farming is mostly a seasonal job and I return back to web development when I can during the off season.
Let’s talk about the WOLF. What does it do?
The WOLF is a hops harvester that looks like something from The Dark Side of the Force. We purchased it from a hops farm in Hallerteau, Germany and had it shipped to Cazenovia via open ocean container. It weighs in at 5.5 tons and makes short work of harvesting hops, topping out at 170 bines a hour. Under full load it can pick an acre of hops in approx five hours.
How does it change the game for hop farmers? What niche or need is this filling?
Having a harvester on the farm is huge. There’s only so much hand-picking one can do. It takes one person 1-2 hours to pick one bine. After your farm grows past 1 acre in annual production you’ll most likely need mechanical harvesting (or a lot of really good friends). The WOLF is available for use to other local hop farmers, who can rent it out on an hourly basis.
What’s The Bineyard’s plan for the future?
The Bineyard plans to continue to grow and harvest their own four acres of hops and continue to offer the full array of processing services, including drying (Oast) and pelletizing capabilities.
What’s the harvest cycle for a hop and when do you see yourself at your busiest?
Hops emerge from a dormant state in the ground when thawed and can grow up to 20’ high or more. They reach their highest point on the trellis at the summer solstice and start the process of cone production. Harvest is quick and by far the busiest time of year, starting approx mid-August to mid-September.
How have you marketed your services?
Other than some mentions on the Northeast Hop Alliance website and some nice newspaper press we received when the harvester arrived, it’s been mostly word-of-mouth. I try to stay active on a few social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, taking pictures involving the farm, giving updates and sharing hops knowledge. I really enjoy doing that.
What are you growing there? What else is being grown in the area?
Our area in Caz has primarily been dairy. When we moved to the 75 acre farm there were a bunch of old apple trees that still produce a high quantity of apples each season. That has been fun to play with including some hard cider experiments.
Organic has become such a flashpoint for farming and food production. What does organic mean for hop farming?
Unfortunately, there really isn’t a market for organic beer. This doesn’t stop a lot of farmers from going organic. My philosophy has always been to practice organic as much as you can but I don’t see the need to become “certified.” Most people in the market for hops in the area want local, and as long as we’re providing them with high-quality hops (which, for us, also means “clean”), they’re satisfied.
Do you remember the first beer you ever drank? What was it?
HA! My dad used to give me sips of beer from time to time as a kid during social events. Back then your only choices were light American lagers. I experienced craft beer young growing up with Magic Hat Brewing Company located in South Burlington, Vt. — my backyard. They taught me that beer can be more…
Photos courtesy of The Bineyard and related social media accounts