GRAND RAPIDS — The first meeting of a new statewide group of hop growers took place Saturday, with the Founders Firkin Fest as the background to the meeting.

Currently called the Michigan Hop Network (with the name subject to change), the group won’t be selling hops — rather it is focused on promoting hops in general as a crop for farmers.

Brian Tennis of Michigan Hop Alliance says the final articles of corporation are being firmed up and should be “good to go in a few weeks”.

At this point in time the group is hoping to double or triple hop production in order to secure federal crop protection funds.

Currently there are only 300 acres of hops being grown commercially in Michigan. Boosting that to 900 acres would enable farmers to avail of USDA crop insurance, a much needed benefit to entice potential farmers.

“Right now we’ve got 1% (of the total hop crop) in the United States,” said Tennis, mentioning the state should be reaching the goal of 3% by 2016.

Another function of the group will be to work on legislation to make hop growing more attractive. House Bill 5275, the Farm to Glass proposal, would give tax credits to Michigan breweries using all-Michigan ingredients in their brews. It would be phased in over several years. “It’s something that we’re still working on with the legislature in terms of tweaking the verbage that’s in there,” said Tennis.

“We know right now that the malt industry is so small that there’s going to be very few beers out there that are going to be 100% Michigan malt, Michigan yeast and Michigan hops but we’re already doing some right now,” he said. “The Mitten [Brewing Company] is one, we’ve done some stuff with Kuhnhenn, and we’ve done some stuff with Short’s.”

Michigan is home to two malt houses, a yeast culturing lab, many hop farms and fresh water that is suitable for brewing.

Tennis also stated there are currently farm chemicals being used in the Pacific Northwest that could be useful in Michigan but are not approved here yet. The new group will be lobbying for legalization, although it won’t necessarily be a Political Action Committee. The focus will be more on promoting the growth, proper processing and use of Michigan hops.

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