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Hop production up despite heat, drought

Responding to strong demand from craft brewers, U.S. hop production rose in 2015 despite extreme heat and drought in the prime growing region, Washington's Yakima Valley.
Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Published on December 18, 2015 11:38AM

Dan Wheat/Capital Press
A hop cone is broken open to show seeds that yield oil used in making beer. Pacific Northwest hop production continues to grow.

Dan Wheat/Capital Press A hop cone is broken open to show seeds that yield oil used in making beer. Pacific Northwest hop production continues to grow.

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MOXEE, Wash. — U.S. hop production jumped by 11 percent this year on top of a 3 percent increase in 2014.

Production totaled 78.8 million pounds this year compared with 71 million pounds a year ago, according to a Dec. 17 report by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The preliminary value of the crop is $345.4 million, up 33 percent from the revised value of $260.6 million for the 2014 crop, NASS said. Growers received record high prices as more production shifted from alpha varieties to higher-value aroma varieties in response to aroma demand from craft breweries, the report said.

The average price per pound was $4.38 compared with $3.67 in 2014 and $3.35 in 2013, NASS said.

Washington produced 75 percent of the 2015 crop at 59.4 million pounds. The rest came from Oregon and Idaho. Oregon grew 10.6 million pounds, Idaho 8.7 million pounds. The three states produce about one-third of the world supply. Oil from hop cones is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer.

Production and acreage increased in all three states. Washington had its highest number of acres harvested on record going back to 1915. Idaho also had its highest production and acres harvested on record going back to 1944.

Extreme heat in Washington early in the growing season during crucial cone development and drought from a low winter snowpack in the Cascade Mountains created concern about this year’s crop, said Ann George, executive director of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission in Moxee.

Some aroma varieties yielded poorly because of those factors, but late-season bitter hops were a bright spot with above-average yields, George said.

“Considering those challenges and the amount of first-year plants in the ground which have smaller yield, we are pleased with the final count and looking forward to next year,” she said. Acreage is expected to continue growing, she said.

Meanwhile, European producers, relying almost entirely on rainfall rather than irrigation, had one of their toughest years in more than a decade due to drought, George said. Production is 23.8 percent lower than a year ago, she said. Germany, which produces about one-third of the world crop, is down 26 percent.

While some new and proprietary varieties are expected to be tight due to increased popularity and limited production, it appears most of the 2015 world decrease is in high-alpha bittering hops, which have some carryover in storage, she said.

Growth of small, craft breweries has driven demand for aroma varieties “to a level that has challenged the industry to continue to expand production at an equivalent rate,” George has said.

Craft breweries have projected 20 percent annual growth through 2020, which has resulted in Pacific Northwest hop growers expanding aroma acreage and converting alpha acreage to aroma.

There’s been a 48 percent increase in PNW hop acreage in the past three years, she has said.


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