County board gets update from extension educator

Gary Stone, Extension Educator with the Panhandle Research and Extension Cente,r brought a bag of hops along toi show county commissioners the results of his three-year project to determine the viability of growing hops in the area.

GERING — During a light agenda for Scotts Bluff County Commissioners, Extension Educator Gary Stone brought the board up to date on a couple of busy months at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

Stone said he was pleased overall with how the county fair came together, which was helped by a new sound system.

“We also have a new 4-H educator for Scotts Bluff and Morrill counties,” Stone said. “Nathan Rice wanted to be here but he’s been very busy since he started. We like to keep it that way.”

The extension center was also involved in hosting several meetings with the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation District and producers that were impacted by the ditch collapse that left farmers in the Panhandle and in eastern Wyoming without water at the height of the growing season.

“We’ve been writing articles and updates for Crop Watch for the university,” Stone told the board. “We received some very high marks from State Sen. John Stinner for what we were doing and we were happy to get those from him.”

Stone also brought some research to the commissioners meeting in the form of hops plants.

The university is wrapping up a three-year grant project to determine if hops could be a viable secondary crop for area farmers.

The primary use for hops is in flavoring for beer, but there are other uses for the acids the plants produce. One is being investigated for its cancer-fighting capabilities. And the buds, called cones, can be brewed into tea for digestive health and as a sleep aid.

“We wanted to know how well hops would grow in this area, what the yield would be and if there would be any problems with diseases or insects, which there were not,” he said. “We grew eight different types of hops. One variety was a complete flop, four were average and three did very well here and beat the national average for yield.”

This year was different. What started out as a very good crop was wiped out later in the summer by hail.

Stone said there’s been some interest from people that would like to grow hops, but it’s a very labor intensive process that can cost about $15,000 an acre just to get started. A harvester to bring in the crop adds another $25,000 to the operation.

And because the cones are primarily used to flavor beer, sales are limited to the number of breweries that can use locally grown hops.

Stone said American brewers import a lot of hops because we can grow enough to keep up with the demand.

“You have to have a market first before deciding whether to grow hops,” Stone said. “But it can be profitable for people willing to do all the work themselves.”

Also during their Monday meeting, commissioners discussed how to proceed with finding a replacement for Public Defender Bernie Straetker, who announced his retirement at the board’s last meeting two weeks ago.

The county will accept applications through Oct. 10, after which interviews will be scheduled to assist with finding the right candidate.

The last item on Monday’s agenda was a closed session that lasted almost an hour. The board agreed to accept a settlement with former corrections employee Patricia Erny, who had filed a tort claim against the county.

jpurvis@starherald.com

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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