When spring comes around, two sisters from the Mercersburg area will be hoppin’. In addition to working at their family agri-business, Agronomy, Inc., the sisters will be tending to their crop of hops. Melissa Stuff & Donna Stuff Fields have dreamt about starting a business of growing and selling hops. Due to a shortage of hops across the country, they felt confident it was the right time to start this new venture.
With a background in agriculture and family farmland available for use, the sisters were well positioned to begin. They decided to build their hop yard on 1.5 acres of the 170 acre farm their parents own in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Telephone poles were installed, and heavy duty twine was attached to the poles to create a trellis for the hop plants to climb. Around 1,200 plants per acre were planted by hand. The hops were then trained to grow around the heavy duty twine and up the trellis. The crop, which can grow up to a foot per day, requires a lot of water. In one week’s time the plants require an average of 5,000 gallons of water per acre, which is provided by a drip line. When it comes time to harvest the hops, all the work is done by hand. However, mechanical means of harvesting is on the horizon.
Hops are perennial plants which produce cones that look like a small artichoke and are used in the production of beer. They have a unique flavor which significantly influences the taste and aroma of the beer. Craft breweries are regularly experimenting and working with different varieties of hops to create unique flavors of beer.
Several breweries are currently purchasing hops from the Stuffs. Fresh hops need to be delivered to the breweries within 48 hours of harvesting. Breweries like to buy local to avoid the expensive costs associated with overnight shipping. These craft brewers make up a large chunk of the market. Currently, Pennsylvania has 178 craft breweries, which ranks the state eighth in the nation for the number of craft breweries.
“The demand is there and we need to grow more,” Melissa Stuff said. “It’s one of the best cash crops legally grown.” To get the word out about HopStuff yard the two sisters attend craft beer shows and market through social media. They have received positive feedback and feel confident they can continue to grow their business in the years to come.
During the early planning stages of HopStuff yard, the sisters were concerned about mounting startup costs. In particular, they were uncertain whether the benefits of engaging a Certified Public Accountant would outweigh the costs. Their parents, Don and Connie Stuff, have for years entrusted Rotz & Stonesifer, P.C. to handle the accounting needs of the family business, Agronomy, Inc. The sisters decided to contact Lynn Rotz, founder and CEO of Rotz & Stonesifer, P.C. Melissa remembers asking Lynn, “Being a startup entity, can we afford you?” His response was that sound financial and tax advice is critical during the startup phase of a business. Also, he said that he has never forgotten the financial hardship that comes with starting a business and that he would work with them to make sure that the critical advice comes at a price that fits within their budget.
Melissa says “the work is hard, but in the end we get a sense of satisfaction.” Their goal is to make a living and preserve their land for farming well into the future. They both agree “It doesn’t hurt to like beer either.”
If you would like to learn more about HopStuff Yard, please visit their website at hopstuffyard.com or call 717-328-3146.