For two area farms, merger means more hops to more clients

Fans of Southwest Michigan craft beer, independent agriculture and local business are happy to hear Hop Head Farms of Hickory Corners, one of the area's most prominent hop growers, announced a merger with Ceres Hops and Grain.

The collaboration adds 140 fertile acres in Berrien County, bringing Hop Head Farms current production size to 230 acres in Hickory Corners, Berrien County, and a series of contract farms spread across the state.

Formed in 2012 by Bonnie and Jeff Steinman, Hop Head farms has grown into a steady supplier of hops to breweries in 17 states and four counties.

“We're continually taking on new clients, but the merger gives us the confidence that we can supply more hops to more clients,” Bonnie Steinman says. "We want to supply more production beers to more breweries; our hops are primarily in specialty beers.

"First the concern (from breweries) was, can you give us that quality that we expect, then its volume, then consistent volume,"  Steinman continues. "Now we can put all of those together...We'll be able to do the volume and have the consistent quality.”

Hop Head Farms currently cultivates nine varieties of hops on premises and has several other types being contracted out to other farms. The addition of Ceres will allow the company to look at what hop varietals are trending, which styles breweries are asking for, and plant accordingly.

“Right now we're choosing varieties to plant in Berrien County and formulating a plan for spring and fall planting,” Steinman says. “At this point, in Hickory Corners, we've filled up that land as much as we can. It's exciting to have so much more going in.”

Ceres Farms, a subset of Ceres Partners formed in 2007 by Perry Veith, encompasses over 51,000 acres of land spread across Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, and Ohio.

Veith, an initial investor in Hop Head Farms, approached the Steinmans with the idea of a merger.

“He was one of the investors of Hop Head farms and became interested in growing hops. He thought this was a good business to get into," says Steinman. "He's an agricultural guy and loves craft beer. Ceres put in some vines in Berrien County on one of their pieces of land, and they became one of our network growers.”

Until the merger, signing up network growers was the sole avenue by which Hop Head Farms had grown in acreage over the past three years. Network growing, which is akin to working on a freelance contract, can at times, however, be a tenuous affair. Veith proposed the merger to gain a more permanent connection to Hop Head and it's knowledge and resource base.

“He decided he didn't want to be just a network grower and wanted to join his team's resources and land to what Hop Head Farms was already doing and he made the offer to merge,” Steinman says.

The merger will, in time facilitate an expansion not just of acreage, but also of employees: an increase in hop production will require more processing facilities and equipment. But for now, Hop Head Farms will roll with its current set up, playing all future growth by ear.

“The current people that are managing the properties will continue to do that. In the future we'll need more processing facilities to cover all the acreage. We would end up with some more employees, but that's in the future, right now we're still scaled to handle what we have at this time,” Steinman says.

Once both ends of the partnership settle into the merger, plans for more land purchases will begin to take shape, though all additions to acreage will be made strictly by Hop Head Farms, as Steinman says the idea of further mergers is not even on the table.

“There are plans for more land purchases," Steinman says. "We want to continue increasing the network growers as well. In different regions of Michigan I think we can grow different variants of hops better, just depending on the soil type and micro climates."

They'll be following the model that has worked for them. "Our model has always been to have our own acreage but to bring in contracted growers,” Steinman says."We buy their hops from them to process, and to market and sell."

More information on Hop Head Farms can be found here.

Information on Ceres Farms and partners can be found here. 

Writer: Jeremy Martin, Second Wave Media
Bonnie Steinman, Hop Head Farms
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