Indiana County sits just east of Pittsburgh, in west central Pennsylvania. Although the county has just under 90,000 residents, the environmental efforts of the region are making a substantial impact on the environment, with particular benefits for a longstanding but evergrowing craft brewery industry.
Progress within the county is led by the Indiana County Conservation District (ICCD), whose mission is to promote sustainable agriculture and communities while also employing the rich natural resources of the area. The agency, which is known most as a guardian of Indiana County waterways, has also developed a reputation as an ally to area farm operators. Now, it is joining with area farmers and brewers to create an educational program for hops and malt grains production — an initiative that will directly impact the production of sustainable, locally-sourced beer.
This summer, the Pennsylvania Farm Bill included $460,000 to specialty crop projects across the state, designed to increase market competition in the state’s agricultural sector. Dubbed the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, the funds are designed to aid crops that are ineligible for assistance under federal programs. Eligible products are hemp, hops, hardwoods, honey, as well as crops essential for brewing and malting including barley, rye and wheat.
ICCD has been granted just under $38,000 of the funds, and is one of eight major recipients of the bill, according to State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
“This is a unique opportunity for the district to work with our agricultural community on a non-traditional project that will help our local farmers learn how to diversify their operations to create additional financial sustainability,” ICCD executive director Doug Beri Jr. said. Beri went on to explicitly link the program to brewers in the state too, adding the “project also will help to create new market opportunities for area farmers to supply grains and hops that are in high demand by local craft breweries.”
The state has over 350 breweries, several of which pre-date prohibition, including America’s oldest brewery that belongs to the popular Yuengling brand. Although the sector is longstanding, brewery-related economic growth continues to surge, particularly in recent years. According to the Brewers Association, small and independent craft brewers in the Keystone State contributed an economic impact of $5.6 billion in 2019 – the second highest in the country – with more than 3.1 million barrels produced. The hope from this grant funding is to further stimulate this economic growth.
The craft brewing industry’s continued rise is prompting local higher education institutions to develop programs that could contribute to the longevity of Pennsylvania’s unique sector, too. Pennsylvania State University, also known as Penn State, was awarded a grant from the state’s agriculture office to develop a craft brewing program, with the goal of increasing the use of Pennsylvania-grown specialty grains, including hops, barley, wheat, and others, in the brewing process. The university’s courses will have an emphasis on the use of Pennsylvania-grown specialty grains.
“While we have had a strong craft brew industry here in Pennsylvania, these funds will help our state to continue to strengthen the industry and provide additional opportunities in the agriculture field.”