Planning for Farm-To-Glass Success in New York State

On Saturday, February 22 the Carey Institute for Global Good will be hosting a Farm-To-Glass Classroom Business Planning and Design Workshop for farmers, micro-maltsters and craft beverage producers interested in starting or expanding their farm-to-glass enterprise. Stakeholders from all stages of the supply chain will hear from specialists in the field, and examine a farm-to-glass case study through the experiences of Farmhouse Malt, and the farmers and brewers with whom they work.

Topics to be covered by a panel of experts include: business planning; funding opportunities; marketing and communications; scaling start-up ventures and risk management; malt grain growing and harvesting; post-harvest and processing considerations; micro-malt setup and operations; craft beverage producer demands; supply-chain planning; and, farmers’, maltsters, and craft beverage producers’ experiences in the industry.

Speakers will include Samuel Filler, Fellow at Empire State Development; Tom Osadchey, a business planning consultant from NY Farm Net; Robert Perry, a grain farmer and the Grain Coordinator for NOFA-NY; Marty and Natalie Mattrazzo, owners and maltsters at Farmhouse Malt; Kenneth Wortz, Distiller at Ky-Mar Farms; and Evan and Emily Watson, Brewers at Plan Bee Farm Brewery.  The event will run from 10am to 2pm,  and include networking session for farmers and brewers during a break.  The fee for the event is $20 at the door; those interested in attending should call 518-797-5100 to reserve a space. 

There is no question. New York State is in the midst of a craft brew renaissance.  Today, New York State is home to about 170 small breweries, more than five times the number that existed ten years ago, according to Cornell Cooperative Extension.  And, more breweries are emerging from the woodwork with the intent to support the State’s domestic farmers in the wake of Governor Cuomo’s 2012 Farm Brewery Law.  The law creates a farm brewery license for operations that purchase at least 20% of their hops and 40% of their other ingredients, including barely and other small grains, from New York State producers through 2018; in the following six years the mandate escalates to a 90% domestic ingredient purchasing requirement.

However, at this time, New York State-grown malt supplies are so meager it is anticipated farm brewers and distillers will experience significant challenges sourcing ingredients to satisfy these benchmarks.  In fact, supplies are so meager that a single micro-brewery, something the scale of FX Matt (brewers of Saranac), could consume all of the malt presently processed in the entire state.

This is in stark contrast to the mid-nineteenth century, when more than 1 million bushels of barley were harvested in New York State’s heritage farm-to-glass growing region, of which a significant percentage are estimated to have been malt-grade supplies for New York State’s then-booming brewing industry (National Agriculture Statistics Service, 1870).  During this era, Albany was a brewing hotspot; the nation’s largest brewery was located downtown, and at least sixteen other breweries existed within the city.  In 2013, it is estimated 110 acres of hops (Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County) and nearly no-malt grade barley was harvested aside from extension-supported test plots (Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences).  Farm licensed brewers and distillers are very concerned about being able to source enough New York State raised grains to satisfy the purchasing requirements of the Farm Brewery and Farm Distillery Laws.  In fact, several stakeholders question whether action may be required by the Governor to roll back domestic ingredient purchasing requirements to a more achievable level until farmers can appropriately reestablish the malt production industry.

Nonetheless, New York State’s new fascination with craft beer has opened the door for domestic farmers seeking new profit centers for their farms.  The Carey Institute for Global Good has been in communication with dozens of regional field crop farmers interested in diversifying their small farms into producing malt barley, wheat and other grains to supply the budding farm-to-glass industry.  However, there are significant challenges and learning curves to be met to bring malt supplies up to speed with demand.

Gearing up for grain production, farmers face substantial financial and time investments in field conditioning, seed purchasing and equipment procurement.  Carefully planned harvesting is vitally important to managing risk for malt grain crops; malt-grade grain production requires meticulous harvesting by a trained combine operator using finely calibrated equipment.  Post-harvest considerations are also of utmost importance to ensure the quality of harvested grains until they reach the malt house, including temperature and humidity control, drying practices, on-farm storage and transportation.

As malt grain production comes back into the mainstream in New York State, there are several considerations that require further research, development and education.  Furthermore, as the industry is reestablished there is a call from farmers to uncover the institutional and historical know-how associated with malt grain cultivation.

The Farm-To-Glass Classroom Business Planning and Design Workshop will pick up where last year’s Small Grains Round Table discussion left off, providing an opportunity for farmers, maltsters and craft beverage producers to network and learn from experts in the field.  Additionally, following the workshop, participants are welcome to join an informal round table discussion to brainstorm the development of a New York State Farm Brewers Association.  This discussion will take place from 2:30pm to 3:30 pm in the Guggenheim Pavilion.

The Carey Institute for Global Good in Rensselaerville has emerged as a leader in the effort to close the gap between agricultural supplies and demand from brewers and increase capacity for New York State’s budding farm brewing industry.  Starting in 2014, the Carey Institute will be resurrecting a New World Dutch Barn, circa 1760, on its campus to house New York State’s first farm brewery incubator.  The Carey Institute has partnered with CSArch, an Albany-based architecture firm, to adapt the barn so it may function as a new economic and social hub that connects farmers, brewers and craft beverage enthusiasts.  In January, Empire State Development announced the award of $108,000 to the project, dubbed the Helderberg Brewshed; an ongoing fundraising campaign is underway to secure the rest of the project budget.  The barn will house three key programs, including a Model Farm Brewery, A Farm-To-Glass Classroom, and a Farm Brewery Incubator.  Stay tuned to for upcoming Farm-To-Classroom events and opportunities to engage with the Helderberg Brewshed Project.