Owner. Operator. Entrepreneur.
One winter day a few years back, Lacy Mason was thumbing through a seed catalog, and "hops" jumped off the page. So she embarked on an entrepreneurial journey - growing hops in Iowa.
Lacy’s small-scale hops farm is located near Odebolt, Iowa. Last year, her hops farm business was approximately a quarter of an acre with 252 hops plants. The crop was abundant in 2015. “Let’s just say last harvest was the last one we’ll be picking by hand,” Lacy says.
This spring, Lacy is increasing the binyard to 500 hops plants, or the equivalent to a half acre in the hop world. Included in the 2016 expansion is a new irrigation system for all 500 plants. She has also ordered a small harvester for this season. “There will still be a lot of hand sorting through the leaves and stems, but will definitely save us time,” Lacy says. “I'm hoping for 900-plus wet pounds this year.”
Lacy has added a new variety to her hops operation – Triple Perle. “It's a newer variety just released in 2014, so we're hoping to see some demand for it,” Lacy says. “It has ‘mango’ characteristics, so I'm excited to smell that one this fall.” Also included in her crop are Chinook, Cascade, and Nugget. The female flowers of the hop plants are primarily used in beer making for flavoring in craft beers.
Along with the expansion, Lacy has decided to be a contract grower for Midwest Hop Producers, LLC out of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. “They have a state of the art hops processing facility. I have the option to deliver my hops wet or dry. They then distribute the hops to brewers in either the whole cone or pelletized form,” Lacy says. “There are many reasons we chose to grow for them, but their drive and commitment to see local hops used in local beer was my number one reason to work with them.”
Lacy has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, but she also credits her 2014 Annie’s Project experience through Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for helping her learn some of the business aspects of starting an agricultural venture. “Annie’s Project continues to be an added resource to our farming operation. With my husband taking over the row crop operation, I feel there are so many things I learned from my experience that I can apply. Just having a basic knowledge of grain marketing is so helpful,” Lacy says. “I also used FSA as a resource in 2016, another learning tool I picked up from Annie’s Project.”
Lacy has also been tapping into other resources through ISU Extension and Outreach. Diana Cochran is an assistant professor and extension fruit specialist with Iowa State University. “I've also been working with Diana at ISU on forming some sort of Iowa hop growers association to bring more attention to the specialty crop in our state,” Lacy says. “Diana has been awesome!”
As busy as she is, Lacy loves what she’s doing. “I never realized how rewarding it would be to have my own business,” Lacy says. “The longs days of hard work are tiring. Rain, wind, or shine, the work has to get done, but you keep pushing through and at the end of the day when you see the fruits of your labor it all makes it worth it. For me anyway!”
Listen to Lacy's story about her business and her experience with Iowa State University Extension Women in Agriculture and Annie's Project.