Northwest hop acreage keeps climbing

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Long-term supply of hops for large brewers may be questionable as varietal production for small breweries keeps growing.

YAKIMA, Wash. — U.S. hop acreage continues to grow in aroma varieties for small craft brewers, but questions remain about the supply of alpha varieties used by larger brewers.

“At the moment, big brewers have enough. A big question for the industry is when will those stocks be depleted to the point they need more,” said Pete Mahony, director of supply chain management and purchasing for John I. Haas Inc., Yakima, a leader in hop processing, research and development.

Oil in the hop cone or flower is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer. The U.S. produced $249 million worth of hops in 2013 with 79 percent of that grown in the Yakima Valley. Oregon and Idaho trail Washington in production.

High-alpha sold in extract is stable and keeps five to 10 years with no deterioration of quality, but no one really tracks inventories, Mahony said.

To some extent, Germany already is picking up some of any slack and could take a larger share of the global alpha market, he said.

The 2014 hop forecast, released June 11 by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Services, shows growth in the Northwest is continuing.

U.S. acreage strung for harvest in 2014 is 38,392 compared with 35,224 harvested in 2013, according to the report. Of that, Washington is forecast at 29,021 acres, up 1,959. Oregon is projected at 5,559, up 773 and Idaho is 3,812, up 436.

The total of the three states — the U.S. total — has been increasing at about 10 percent annually for three years and it’s driven by the increase in craft breweries, Mahony said.

Craft brewers make up only 7 to 8 percent of the brewing industry but have a 15 percent annual growth rate while large brewers comprise the bulk of the industry but average 1 to 2 percent annual growth, he has said.

Five years ago, 75 percent of the acreage was high-alpha for large brewers and today aroma is 65 percent and high-alpha is 35 percent, he said.

The shift is related to an oversupply of high-alpha hop extract that’s working its way down, he said.

The overall growth has been good for the industry with gross returns to growers of $8,500 to $10,000 per acre compared with a more normal $6,000 to $7,000 per acre, Mahony said.

The report shows for the first time an aroma variety, Cascade, becoming the No. 1 variety in the U.S. at 17 percent of the 2014 crop acreage forecast, he said. Cascade is the work horse of the craft industry, he said. There are about 70 commercial alpha and aroma varieties.


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