Frank Rogers Jr. sees himself as an entrepreneur first and a student, second. His Agribusiness coursework has helped him understand agricultural trends. Working at Ohio State’s Ornamental Plant Germplasm Center during his sophomore year taught him that you have to make educated and deliberate decisions to successfully grow plants. This has been good training considering he is attempting to do something that hasn’t been done in Ohio since prohibition – grow hops on a commercial scale.
Rogers didn’t grow up on a family farm but was active in 4-H and Future Farmers of American, but has since found inspiration from studying trends and seeing the craft beer market develop in Columbus. He simply took a cue from Entrepreneurship 101; he identified a need, figured out how to fill it all while taking on all the risk of starting a farm.
Each year, Ohio brewers import $30 million worth of hops from the Pacific Northwest, which is where hop production moved in the 1920’s, due its ideal climate and few issues with disease, mold and fungus that plague Ohio. Rogers calculated that Ohio would need to have 4-6,000 acres of hops in production to support the growing Ohio craft brew market.
He and his fiancée, Annie Mayle, also an OSU student, bought 223 acres near Circleville, Ohio and founded Full Circle Hops. They are in the process of amending the soil and building the irrigation and trellising infrastructure so they can plant their first crop on 50 acres this fall. The trellising consists of thousands of steel poles strung with aircraft cable and twine to allow the spiny tendrils of the hop plants to climb until they grow to 18 to 20 feet. Rogers says plants are easy to start but can be hard to maintain. Through the process, Rogers found support through a leading Hop producer in Granger, Washington who was happy to help a young and passionate future farmer.
“We are partnering with Carpenter Ranches for equipment to harvest, kiln dry and pelletize our yield into pelleted form,” shares Rogers. “The cost of land and equipment is prohibitive so we’re really grateful for their support and mentorship through this process because without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Besides pests and fungus, Full Circle Hops faces even more hurdles in reaching the end of their first harvest. They need additional private investors to get behind them.
“Its really hard for new farmers to get capital due to the fact they have no growing track record.,” says Rogers.
According to Ani Kathova, AEDE Associate Professor and Farm Income Enhancement Chair, access to farmland is a big hurdle because most young farmers do not inherit their land, and, instead, purchase or lease farmland to start their businesses and grow over time.
“Beginning farmers have different capital needs in terms of purchasing or leasing farmland and they likely need different support programs to start their businesses,” shares Katchova. “It is important for policy makers to have a clearer sense of their policy goals in targeting beginning farmers, including targeting young farmers and tailoring farm policy support for their needs.”
Rogers remains hopeful they’ll be planting this fall but they still have a bit to go before fulfilling his vision of starting their first 50 acres; which translates to 148 rows, totaling 1060 feet or 29 miles of hops.
“Hops is a high value crop and the potential for growth in the state is staggering,” says Rogers. “But in order to bring crop diversity to Ohio, farmers need funding.”
Nothing will quench Rogers’ thirst until Full Circle Hops becomes the highest quality hops producer in Ohio.