High hopes for Florida hops

Florida might be known for its oranges, but a new crop is about to have farmers hopping on its bandwagon. Thirty minutes from Tampa, professors with the University of Florida have nurtured the state’s biggest hop yard.

Oil from flowery hops gives beer its taste and aroma. Assistant professor Shinsuke Agehara says, with local breweries on the rise, there’s a market for it.

“We have so many breweries here, more than 280. And many of them are looking for locally grown hops,” Shinsuke said.

Over half of the world’s hops come from the Pacific Northwest, for two reasons: From April to October, the days are long and the climate is warm. Florida only has the latter, so Agehara had to make some adjustments.

When the sun goes down at UF's Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Balm, their LED lights turn on. Hops need at least 15 hours of light during their early growing season. Agehara says that’s why they installed these LED lights to trick the plants into thinking they’re already in that environment. 

“We extended the day length by five to six hours. We want to create 16 to 17 hours’ day length,” Shinsuke said. 

Under the bright lights, the vine crop grows up a 19-foot long stretch of twine.


"The twine hangs from the wire, which is 19 feet high, and then we train the vine so they can climb up."

And once it's time for harvest, nearby spots like Leaven Brewing reap the rewards.

"We got some Cascade hops and we brewed a wheat IPA that was just a very, very popular one here in the tasting room,” offered Leaven owner KJ Lynch.  “It's always an advantage, being able to build those relationships with local growers and farmers."

The university’s research farm expects to expand their hop yard to 2.4 acres. Because they’re in their experimental phase, they’ve been donating their hops to breweries like Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing and 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Pete.