The once-low-key Idaho Hop Growers Association is getting more active as the industry expands in the state.
New developments for the approximately 50-year-old association include a stepped-up presence in government policymaking, just-launched preparations to host the industry’s national meeting in 2021, and a drive to add members.
The Idaho group also has been working with peers in other hop-growing states to promote the industry nationally.
Idaho in 2018 ranked second in U.S. hop production, well behind Washington and just ahead of Oregon, after increasing its acreage by 14.2 percent, USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.
“We are trying to rise to that occasion and pull our weight on all fronts,” said Idaho Hop Growers Association board President Michelle Gooding of Gooding Farms outside Parma, in southwest Idaho. “We are trying to give Idaho a little bit more of a voice on a global scale.”
Idaho’s irrigated southwest region, particularly near the Oregon border, has about 10 growers. Some hops are grown in Idaho’s northern panhandle.
“Over the years, you have just kind of seen the hops expanding around here,” said Candi Fitch, Parma-based executive director for the association. “We look for it to keep growing.”
The Idaho Hop Growers Association is a member-dues organization that advocates for the industry, including in the policymaking arena. It is separate from the Idaho Hop Growers Commission, a quasi-governmental body that collects an assessment from growers — recently $2.70 per 200-pound bale — to fund research, promotion and education.
“The primary goal of the association is to lobby for the interest of hop growers in Idaho and the United States,” Gooding said.
Hop Growers of America held the American Hop Convention Jan. 23-25 in Monterey, Calif. The event will be in Portland next year and in Idaho in January 2021, at a location yet to be determined. Showcasing Idaho’s primary hop-growing region is among goals, Gooding and Fitch said.
IHGA started getting more active about two years ago, when growers and merchants from Oregon, Washington and Idaho joined the craft-beer-focused Brewers Association in Washington, D.C., to lobby for a more than two-fold increase in USDA hops-research funding, Gooding said. Secured in the most recent funding year, the new money will help pay for an additional full-time USDA breeder in Prosser, Wash., and help reinvigorate the public breeding program.
On the state level, Idaho House Bill 87 would exempt from property tax the equipment that producers of hops, milk, mint and honey use — often in buildings — to harvest a salable product. Idaho already exempts farm equipment. The bill would replace a two-year exemption lawmakers passed in 2018.
“It was a catalyst for our members to be more proactive, and have more of a grassroots revolution, as far as our presence in public policy,” Gooding said. The effort also “really motivated the younger members to participate.”
IHGA last fall updated its bylaws, elected new leadership and hired Fitch, who has managed agricultural groups for years.
The association early this year joined Food Producers of Idaho, a large and diverse group of agricultural interests that advocates for agriculture, as a voting member.
Food Producers of Idaho Executive Director Rick Waitley said IHGA in recent years became more involved throughout Idaho agriculture, from hosting schoolteacher tours and helping to develop young ag leaders to advocating for research.
“The exciting thing about the industry is that not only are there many new players with new hop fields springing up all over southwestern Idaho, but also the return of second- and third- generation hop farmers,” he said.
Some growing pains may materialize as the association incorporates new and smaller-scale hop growers with some of the longtime producers, but IHGA has a strong fundamental base, Waitley said. “They have good, engaged and strong young leadership who see the opportunity and have a vision.”
Gooding said the Idaho Hop Growers Association aims to advocate for growers’ needs as well as “the greatness of Idaho hops. That will be displayed in 2021.”