Central Florida Hops, a YBSM farm
Matthew Roberts founded Central Florida Hops in 2017, making it the inaugural hops farm in Orange County. Roberts has a Bachelor of Science degree in Food and Resource Economics from the University of Florida which prepared him for this endeavor, paving the way for hops to be a successful niche crop in central Florida.
In 2017, Roberts said, "we want to start small and not get in over our heads". Roberts has had inquiries and interest from local breweries interested in a local Florida hop. Due to the local food and beverage movement, microbreweries and craft beer sales started spiking which has created even more of a demand for local central Florida hops. This demand causes a market for year round Florida hops available to local breweries.
Hop growers in the leading producing states, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho typically harvest once a year, in the fall. Central Florida Hops has the ability to harvest twice a year including the spring when no one else can. This has proven to be a great advantage.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2018, hops were planted in the hop yard to begin the season. The hops quickly grew with bines reaching the top of their climbing space after a mere two and a half months. The quick growth pleasantly surprised Roberts.
"We are pretty happy with the sheer amount," he said.
Hops grow vertically then expand their width as time goes on. Roberts mentioned people often ask him what kind of beans he is growing and he explains they are hops. Roberts is planning on getting a sign made for passersby to know that the crops are hops and that yes, Central Florida can and does grow hops.
Roberts plans to sell his hops to small hometown breweries who will have the option of having Central Florida hops to use for multiple brews on tap.
In July, Central Florida Hops will be hosting a Hop Harvest Party and U-Pick hops event. The public will have the opportunity to hand pick hops and see “behind the scenes of their beer”. Home brewers will have the opportunity to purchase fresh hops directly off the bine. This event will be free and is set for July 21st. Central Florida Hops will have updates on social media regarding the event.
Central Florida Hops has 11 varieties of hops and is doing well with plans to adapt and grow. Navigating a new venture comes with its challenges and learning curves, some of the challenges they are learning to face include getting rid of spider mites organically, and the inconsistency in plants due to proximity of roots. With the end of the season approaching, Central Florida Hops is planning for the next season to start in September and have a new harvest by December.
Roberts credits his tenacity regarding Central Florida Hops to lessons learned from observing his father, Ray Roberts of Central Florida Fern, navigate the waters of production agriculture.
"It’s nice to add my own touch in this industry," Roberts said.
The first year proved a learning experience and opportunity for Roberts to make his mark on Florida’s agriculture by producing a new niche crop.
"I like beer. I like plants. It makes sense," Roberts said.
Roberts’s eagerness to explore the novelty of growing hops in Central Florida is commendable. There are countless lessons to be learned from Central Florida Hops for and young farmer or rancher looking to begin their own production operation.