South Dakota is mostly known for growing corn and beans. But in a couple fields you'll find something much more unique to the area. A Sioux Falls native is trying his hand growing the key ingredient for brewing beer.
It's something you don't expect to see on the side of a South Dakota road. But Lee Anderson and his fiancé decided to erect a jungle of vines and try their hand at hops.
"In 2007 there was a huge hop shortage. My brother was going to just go to college and it was something that kind popped up. Last summer it really started to take hold and start being what it is," Anderson said.
It wasn't something that just happened. Nearly a year of research, soil sampling and planning went on before they broke ground near Valley Springs.
"From there I guess we just started drilling holes in the ground and staking stuff out and putting it together," Anderson said.
It took about a month to build the trellis and irrigation system and get the plants in the dirt. Anderson's fiancé designed it. Using anchor points, the structure can be pulled in any direction if it were to shift. While startup was tedious, next year will be whole lot easier.
"All we're going to have to do is re-twine it and the train plants. Everything will be in, everything is down and we can just start concentrating on the care of the plants," Anderson said.
Hops usually don't produce anything their first year. But Anderson says they got lucky and should get about 100 pounds per acre. Now, it's time to harvest.
"It's a big step. We’re just going to have to get up there in our John Deer, cut them down, chop them on the bottom about two feet because these plants aren't dormant yet, we’d like them to still suck nutrients in before they go. We’ll throw them on a flat bed and take them to the processing," Anderson said.
They run them through a machine made by another one of the state's few producers in the western part of the state. The device strips each hop right off the vine.
"It takes about three minutes to run a vine through the picker and then we have to sort it and hopefully we can dry, you know, 30 to 40 pounds in five, six hours. We can only harvest as much as we can dry in a day," Anderson said.
The two-acre plot is already quite extensive and has the potential to yield a considerable amount of hops. But when looking to the future, it’s just the beginning of what they hope to accomplish.
"The future is really bright. Depending on how many grants we receive next year and how well our hops are received with these brewers, we're definitely putting acres in. It’s just a matter of the varieties that people would like to see," Anderson said.
Anderson got help getting started from Geoffrey Njue with the SDSU Extension service in Sioux Falls. Njue says when starting a new crop, it all comes down to demand.
"First of all we look at is there market for that crop? Is there potential for the development of that crop in the state? And yes there is. Because there are a lot of micro breweries, there's home brewers that would be interested in buying some local product to make beer," Njue said.
He says it's not something he expects to see on a large-production scale in South Dakota, but it is something with a bright future.
"If we can get in the right footing and it gets successful then there will be other people in the state that would be interested in getting into that crop," Njue said.
"Well, the market is so big with so many different varieties of hops out there that the state could have quite a few different growers all growing different hops and it would be a viable market for everybody," Anderson said.
Anderson has four local breweries and a few home brewers who will be getting this year's crop. To him, that's a success worth toasting.
"A dream that came true, I guess," Anderson said.
In three or four years Anderson says they could be getting up to 2,000 pounds of hops per acre. They'll be having two field days, one next spring and fall, for the public to attend if you would like to see the hop farm for yourself.