The Helderberg Brewshed Receives $15,000 to Support Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education


The Carey Institute for Global Good is thrilled to announce the award of $15,000 from the University of Vermont’s Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (NESARE) Partnership Grants program.  Funding will support the continuation of the Carey Institute’s Farm-To-Glass Classroom series to improve farmers’ knowledge of malt-grain and hops production, connect farmers with technical assistance resources in the field, and in turn increase the availability of New York State grown hops and malt to supply the budding farm brewery industry.

The Farm Brewery bill is designed to foster rapid synergistic economic growth amongst New York State’s craft beverage, agriculture and tourism industries.  It creates a farm brewery license for breweries that purchase at least 20% of their hops and 20% 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 hop and malting grain supplies are so meager it is anticipated farm brewers and distillers will experience significant challenges sourcing ingredients to satisfy these benchmarks.

Today, the vast majority of American hops are grown in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. This is in stark contrast to the mid-nineteenth Century, when New York State produced as much as 90% of the national hop supply, largely in the Mohawk Valley and Capital Region (New York Times); more than 3.8 million pounds of hops were harvested in New York State in 1870 (National Agriculture Statistics Service).  Likewise, in 1870, 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).  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).

Hop and malt-grade grain production went by the wayside in New York State due to a variety of reasons.  Following the turn of the 20th century, declines in hop production have been attributed to the 1913 Blue Mold Blight and the discovery of more-productive, higher-yielding hop lands in the Pacific Northwest.  Likewise, New York State malt-grain production declined due to the onset of widespread vomitoxin, a barley disease.  Shortly thereafter, the Prohibition Amendment went into effect.  With Prohibition’s repeal came the rise of the Mid-Western mega-breweries, and very few of Albany’s breweries reopened their doors.

With the recent passage of the Farm Brewery Bill, farmers throughout the Upper Hudson Valley, Eastern Mohawk Valley and Capital Region are eagerly exploring opportunities to enter the hops and malting grains market and fill local supplier niches.  However, since hop and malt-grain production has gone by the wayside in the last century, New York’s farmers require significant technical assistance to re-establish the industry.  Surveys from farmers reveal several areas of need requiring education.  As such, the Carey Institute for Global Good hosts workshops in its Farm-To-Glass Classroom to improve farmers’ knowledge of malt-grain and hops production, connect farmers with technical assistance resources in the field, and in turn increase the availability of New York State grown hops and malt to supply the budding farm brewery industry.

While the farm brewery bill progressively intends to stimulate the craft beverage, agriculture and tourism industries in New York State, its ingredient purchasing requirements grossly exceed New York State’s current agricultural capacity. Furthermore, the Farm Brewery Law does not provide funding or technical assistance to build capacity so farmers may overcome these shortcomings; likewise, the State Department of Agriculture and Markets has yet to implement assistance for farmers since the law passed in July 2012.

Recognizing this unfilled niche, the Carey Institute for Global Good has since been collaborating with stakeholders to develop a plan of action.  In anticipation of the incubator and other farm brewery openings, the Carey Institute has commenced its Farm-To-Glass Classroom programming to improve farmers’ technical capacity to raise hops and malt-grains, and in turn augment ingredient supplies.  Dozens of farmers interested in expanding into hop and malt-grain growing have connected with the Carey Institute, but require education and technical assistance to establish themselves in the industry.  In step, the Farm-To-Glass Classroom workshop series will shed light on topics farmers have identified as requiring assistance, including:

  • Barley & Malt Grains: Soil selection; fertilizing; seed varietal selection and sourcing; vomitoxin, pest/disease control; harvesting; processing; grain storage and drying; best management practices; organic growing practices.
  • Hops: Varietal selection; existing regional heirloom varieties; downy mildew, weed and pest control; trellising; hop yard maintenance; harvesting; processing; drying techniques; packaging; kiln/barn design alternatives and oast development; best management practices.
  • Business Planning: Insurances; licensing; quality control; quality assurance; scale; profitability; supply chain and marketing; hedging harvests that fall below malting standards.

Building upon previous wisdom, Farm-To-Glass Classroom Workshops will disseminate the experiential knowledge of brewers, maltsters, cooperative extension personnel, state agency officials, business planning consultants and other stakeholders amongst farmers. The Carey Institute will engage these professionals to develop workshop curricula and participate as panelists to share their findings to farmers.  Providing educational opportunities and technical assistance to farmers will improve their capacity and confidence to produce malt-grains and hops, unveil economic opportunities for farm businesses, and increase supplies of New York State-grown ingredients to advance New York State’s budding farm-to-glass industry.

The receipt of this $15,000 grant brings the Helderberg Brewshed’s fundraising total to more than $220,000, representing approximately one-third of the total project budget.  The Carey Institute for Global Good is continuing to accept tax-deductible donations to the Helderberg Brewshed.

NESARE’s mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking research and education.  The Partnership Grants Program is for agricultural service providers–extension staff, consultants, nonprofits, state departments of agriculture, and other advisers in the farm community–who want to conduct on-farm demonstrations, research, or marketing projects with farmers as cooperators.  In 2014, 71 individuals and organizations applied to the Partnership Program; 32 applications were selected for funding.