Just a stone's throw from the Vermont-Canada border sits a very unusual sight. One that's certainly hard to ignore.
"This is a shorter version of what you'd see out west," said Heather Darby of the University of Vermont Extension.
They're hops, soaring more than 16 feet into the sky. This looks a little like a scene out of "Jurassic Park."
"They'll actually grow over the top and back down," Darby said.
But if some farmers have anything to say about it, this could soon become a very familiar sight. It's all part of the Vermont hops project. UVM is experimenting with the crop to see how it grows here and whether it could be produced on a mass scale.
"We're trying to learn ahead of the people that are doing it, so they don't all make the mistakes," Darby said.
Believe it or not, Vermont was actually once the second biggest producer of hops in the country. In 1850, Vermont grew 8 percent of the nation's hops, but that all changed in the early 1900s. Disease all but wiped out the crop and production moved west to eastern Washington and Oregon.
"The dry weather is more conducive because of diseases. The drier it is the less diseases you have," Darby said.
Those same pests are still around, but there's hope the crop could make a comeback, especially since Vermont today has more breweries per capita than any other state.
One of the challenges right now to producing the crop is trying to figure out ways to grow the crop on a large scale. This is the only yard of its size in the state and it takes 30 pounds of hops just to make one very large batch of beer.
"We probably get a thousand pounds of hops a year and no one has a plot that big yet," said Russ Fitzpatrick of the Vermont Pub and Brewery.
Vermont Pub and Brewery is one of a handful of local brewers that is partnering with UVM to test the hops in its brews. And so far, so good. The first 20 gallons of brew sold out in four short days.
"We haven't done anything that fast in a while," Fitzpatrick said.
But while demand is high, the quality of the hops still has a long way to go. Vermont hops are less aromatic than hops grown elsewhere. There are several theories as to why that is. Climate may play a role. Hops grown here are also very expensive.
"I would say it's at least 20 percent more and in some cases 50 percent," Darby said.
It's an idea that still has a lot of kinks to be worked out.
Darby said, "We need to figure out how we grow the best quality hops in Vermont, so the brewers are paying for the best product, not just the Vermont product."
But one some seem to be hopping to-- as farmers look for new ways to diversify their crops.
The machinery needed to harvest hops is also very expensive, but it doesn't take a lot of land to grow the crop. Most hops yards are only a couple of acres.
Tuesday, May 21 2013 12:32 AM EDT2013-05-21 04:32:23 GMT
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