Many hoppy returns: Dairy farmers take leap of faith
Family take chance on international reputation of NZ crops and others expected to follow. Laurel Ketel reports.
MOVE over milk, here comes craft beer. A long-established Nelson farm is leading the way as hops emerge as an alternative to dairying for some farmers.
Holmdale Farm in Spring Grove – south of Nelson – has been a dairy farm for 75 years but is now amidst transition after sixth-generation farmer Cameron Ealam, 28, saw an opportunity.
The farm has been in the same family for 162 years and now Ealam and his partner, parents, uncle, and even his 82-year-old grandfather are chipping in to transition the 160-hectare property into a hopsgrowing operation.
Ealam says the transition was primarily a lifestyle choice.
‘‘Dad didn’t want to be milking cows at 60 so we’ve achieved that goal with a staged move out of dairy.’’
Holmdale Farm is perfectly placed for hops, which can only be commercially grown in the Tasman region because of the latitude.
Convincing his family wasn’t too difficult, although 82-year-old Alan Eden was initially concerned.
‘‘Granddad was worried about losing the cows but he helped with our first harvest this year and he loves it,’’ Ealam says. ‘‘It’s cool having him around to be a part of it all.’’
Federated Farmers dairy vice-chairman Wayne Langford says he wouldn’t be surprised if more dairy farmers followed suit, especially if the proposed Waimea Dam went ahead.
‘‘Hops are definitely in fashion at the moment, and the prime land on the Waimea plains is perfect for hop growing.’’.
Ealam worked at ANZ bank in the agricultural team after graduating from Lincoln University with a degree in farm management and rural property evaluation.
ANZ was producing a craft beer research paper and had regular contact with clients in the field, and he could see the extent of change in the hops industry.
Of the farm’s 160 hectares, 35 will be converted to hops – 15 hectares are already planted and the remaining 20 nearing completion. The 2020 harvest will be at full maturity.