Farmers across the region may soon find a new opportunity in the growing craft beverage industry. An effort is underway to establish New York state as the leader in hop production and processing.
Building a new state-of-the-art hops and grain processing facility would boost the local economy, according to a new study by several organizations in Chautauqua County.
"It could be a potential game changing for our area particularly for agriculture and for our farmers," said Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello. He says currently 95% of ingredients used in beer making comes from three states in the Pacific Northwest. But that wasn't always the case.
"In the era between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, New York state was the largest grower of hops. So we have a long history of this here so it can be done and now we just need to create the right infrastructure so it can be done from an affordable and practical manner," Borrello said.
Private investors, he says, would pick up most of the $14.7 million cost of the facility which would also process barley and other grains used in brewing, distilling and baking. And demand will likely grow. By 2024, hundreds of craft brewers will be required to use mostly state grown ingredients.
Borrello says the study projects needing crops from 4,200 acres of farmland.
"Just to kind of give you the scale, when we looked at a map of areas where hops or various grains would grow that's going to be an area that would stretch all the way from Chautauqua and Cattaraugus Counties and even parts of Erie County all the way up to the Finger Lakes Region and then going east towards Allegany and Steuben and other counties. So geographically, we'll have a wide reach," Borrello said.
If the facility becomes reality, Borello says it would help cut costs for local brewers and distillers by eliminating middlemen and lowering transportation costs.