Montana is known for growing some of the best barley in the world, and a lot of that commodity is used to make beer. Hops are also an essential component of the brewing process.
For Sidney farmer Sarah Rachor, growing hops has turned a few heads in the countryside. It doesn’t keep her from expanding her cropping portfolio while stepping up as a leader in agriculture along the way.
“I lived in Bend, Oregon for five years, and my office was right by Deschutes Brewery, and I spent a lot of time saving tables on Friday nights,” said Sarah Rachor. “My husband and I got really into craft brewing in Oregon, and he started home brewing. So naturally, when I went back to the farm, I picked out a corner where we could plant some hops.”
That corner in a farm field has turned into an acre where Rachor is growing five different hop varieties.
Across the Big Sky State, craft breweries are playing a vital role in local economies while making a great product. Rachor’s Fresh Hopped Farm is playing a critical role in providing Montana sourced hops for the brewing process.
“I just worked with Gally’s Brewing in Harlowton to do the first all Montana made beer,” said Rachor. “All the ingredients, hops, malt, and everything except for the yeast was from Montana. That beer has been used as a fundraiser to save the Hobson grain elevators from being torn down as well! So, it’s fun to collaborate with brewers all around the state to make different beers with different styles of hops.”
While hops are not that common in Montana, neither are soybeans. For Rachor, planting a variety of crops is a strategy to stay in business.
“Diversification is essential,” Rachor said. “For example, with my soybeans, I’m going to lose money on my soybeans crop. Because I also have wheat, sugar beets, and the hops, I will survive one more year because those aren’t as threatened in the marketplace. If I was just a soybean farmer, I would go out of business this year.”
Sarah Rachor is not only diversifying what she plants on the farm. She is also expanding her knowledge and leadership in agriculture by participating in the National Farmers Union’s Beginning Farmer Institute.
“It’s a program where we get together twenty farmers from around the country with vastly different operations that range from conventional to organic and everything in between,” Rachor said in describing the program. “We meet three times a year. Once here in Washington D.C. Once in Salinas California, the Salad Bowl of America. Finally, then again in Bellevue, Washington before Farmers Unions National Convention. We also look at what’s offered for beginning farmers as far as federal programs. And, we see how we can try and succeed in a time when beginning to farm is almost impossible for young and beginning farmers.”
With multiple sectors of the farm economy struggling, Sarah Rachor is working to make her farm profitable. She is also becoming a leader in Montana agriculture and advocating for the industry in Washington, D.C.
“I just want farmers and ranchers to know that there’s a big group of us out here working on trying to get the farm bill passed, talking to our representatives that are trying to represent us, and the rest of the rural community,” Rachor said. “Where there is a voice, it shows we do care, and we’re making sure that that’s known out here in D.C.”
For more information on Sarah Rachor and Fresh Hopped Farm, visit their website.
Reporting by Lane Nordlund for MTN News