County Wants To Assist With Hops, Barley Industry

Chris Lacorata, who has 35 years of experience in strategic development, discussing the idea of starting a hops and barley growing industry in Chautauqua County for the craft beer and spirits and healthy foods industry. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

New crops may soon be added to the list of Chautauqua County’s already rich agricultural industry.

On Wednesday, Chris Lacorata gave a presentation on a new concept called “Project Grow Chautauqua” that could be the start of growing hops and barley in the county. Mark Geise, deputy Chautauqua County executive for economic development, said Lacorata has 35 years experience in strategic development, with most of this time working in the beverage industry with corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Lacorata said he has been working with a committee of local stakeholders, which includes the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Southern Tier West and the State University of Fredonia. He said the concept would be a dual industry with the hops and barley being grown for both the craft brewing and spirits industry as well as for the healthy foods industry. He added that in 2018, craft brewing was a $26 billion industry, with craft spirits also generating $9 billion in revenues. Also, the functional foods industry was a $68 billion industry last year. He also said that hops and barley is used for medicinal benefits as well.

Lacorata said the hops industry generated $618 million in the U.S. in 2017, with 90 percent of it being grown out west — mainly in the states of Washington, Oregon and Idaho. He said around the start of the 20th century, New York state was the number one grower of hops in the country.

In 2017, barley was a $618 billion market, which is also mainly grown out west. Lacorata said New York also has roots in once being a heavy producer of barley as well. He said that the county is in a prime location to grow both hops and barley.

“We have DNA for this in New York state,” he said.

Lacorata said 90 percent of hops and barely travel at least 2,700 miles to the east on average, with almost as many craft breweries located east of the Mississippi as there is to the west.

“On a freight cost basis, we are in a more strategic place,” he said.

The craft beverage industry generated $4 billion in New York in 2018, with the county’s neighbor to the north Erie County having the second most craft beverage industries in the state, Lacorata said. He said Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also promoting the craft beverage industry with his Craft New York Act, which went into effect in 2014 and grew the craft beverage industry by 50 percent by the end of 2017.

Along with hops and barley, Lacorata said he wants to also produce malt. He said he would be creating a hops processing plant, malt house and milling operation. He added that there would be a national and international market for the what he produces.

Lacorata said it will be a multipurpose industry that could be sent to several different industries, which would help from certain ups and downs in different markets and would assist with seasonal demand so the products is sold in a timely fashion.

The idea was tested with a consulting firm for the beverage industry and they said it would be the first of its kind business in the U.S., Lacorata said. He said it would take a couple years to start the hops and barley production, but they could start right away in the brand foods industry.

County Executive George Borrello said county officials want to assist Lacorata start the new hops and barley production industry in Chautauqua County.

“I think this is an exciting game-changing event for Chautauqua County and the region,” Borrello said.

The next step in the process to start the new industry would be to fund a feasibility study, which Lacorata said would cost around $100,000 to $120,000. Borrello said Lacorata would pay for half of the study while the county would pay for the other half. Geise said Lacorata is also presenting his idea to county foundations to see if they will help pay for the local half of the costs for the study. Lacorata said once the county decides to be a partners in this idea, it would take six to eight weeks to produce the feasibility study.