Producer Feature: Hoppy Trails Hop Farm

Mark Bonnema started Hoppy Trails Hop Farm in 2014 on a small, 1/4 acre parcel of the family farm. Photos provided by Hoppy Trails Hop Farm.

“I can do that…!”  Mark Bonnema had an epiphany (and a point of no return) while watching a news feature of a Midwest farm growing hops. With a love of craft beer and the desire to be involved in the craft beer industry, it seemed only natural to begin growing hops on the family farm. After all, what farm does not have a few old utility poles lying around just begging to become a makeshift trellis for growing hops. Hops are one of the four essential ingredients in beer – water, barley, hops, and yeast.

Today, Hoppy Trails Hop Farm is a 4-acre hop farm located at Inwood, Iowa. The operation started in 2014 on a small, 1/4 acre parcel of the family farm. After a few years gaining experience growing hops, the operation expanded to 4 acres in 2016. Expansion allowed the farm to justify purchasing the specialty equipment needed for growing, harvesting, drying and processing hops. 

Utility poles support the perennial hops bine as they quickly wind upward.

Hops are reportedly the second fastest growing plant on earth, second only to bamboo. As such, they require a great deal of fertilization, water, and warm sunny days to reach their full potential. They are an amazing plant and it is incredible to watch them grow up to 20 feet tall in about 6 weeks! But they can also be finicky and temperamental. With record setting moisture in 2018 and 2019, several varieties of hops grown at Hoppy Trails Hop Farm suffered from mildew and crown/root rot to the point that they needed to be replaced.

Hops grow at an amazing speed, up to 20 feet tall in about 6 weeks.

Hops are a perennial bine, meaning they grow up and around structures, like twine, rope, or trees in a circular, winding motion. Similar to grapes or apples, there are hundreds of varieties of hops, each with their own unique flavor and aroma contribution to beer. 

Hoppy Trails Hop Farm values collaborative and cost-sharing initiatives with other local hop farms. They are a founding member of the Northwest Iowa Hops Alliance. Together with a neighboring hop farm, Star Sister Organic Hops of Larchwood, IA, Northwest Iowa Hops Alliance operates a-state-of-the-art hops pelleting system in a food-grade facility for processing hops.

Hoppy Trails Hop Farm is also an active member of the South Dakota Hop Growers, working to promote the use of local grown hops by South Dakota breweries. While the farm Hoppy Trails Hop Farm is located in Iowa, owner Mark Bonnema resides in Sioux Falls, SD and works at Sanford USD Medical Center as a nurse. Mark has extensive connections in South Dakota and thus Hoppy Trails Hop Farm primarily markets their hop products to breweries in South Dakota. 

There are hundreds of varieties of hops, each with their own unique flavor and aroma contribution to beer.

The majority of the hops grown at Hoppy Trails Hop Farm are used in commercial beer production. After harvest, hops are dried, cooled, ground via hammer mill, and pelleted. Pelleted hops are packaged in nitrogen gas flushed mylar bags that block oxygen and light.

Hoppy Trails Hop Farm markets, sells, and distributes their hops directly to brewery consumers. The goal is to sell and distribute the majority of the hops grown to local breweries in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Competition with the proprietary and specialty varieties bred and grown in the Pacific Northwest is one of the greatest challenges of growing hops in the Midwest. 

Expanding to 4 acres allowed the farm to justify purchasing the specialty equipment needed for growing, harvesting, drying and processing hops.

South Dakota Hop Growers is a subchapter of the South Dakota Specialty Producers. They recently received a Specialty Crop Block grant to promote and market South Dakota grown and produced hops. Hoppy Trails Hop Farm is proud to be a part of this endeavor. Please visit www.southdakotahopgrowers.com for more information. 

At Hoppy Trails Hop Farm, we like to say, “Hoppiness is a state of mind that begins on the farm.” Hoppy Trails and Happy Brewing!

“Hoppiness is a state of mind that begins on the farm.”- Hoppy Trails Hop Farm.