Hop harvest

Hop harvest at Wenas Hop Co., Yakima, Wash., last September. The latest forecast calls for a record 57,339 U.S. hop acres this year.

YAKIMA, Wash. — U.S. hop acreage is forecast at a record high for the second straight year.

The 2019 estimate is for 57,339 acres, up 4% from the record high of 55,035 acres in 2018, according to a USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report released June 28.

Washington represents 72% of the total at 41,263 acres, up 5.3% from 39,170 acres. Idaho makes up 15% at 8,570 acres, also up 5.3% from 8,140. Oregon is 13% with 7,506 acres, down 2.8% from 7,725.

The top five hop varieties strung for harvest are Citra, Cascade, Simcoe, Mosaic and Zeus.

Acreage growth is primarily due to continued, albeit slower, growth of small, craft breweries that mainly use aroma and some alpha hop varieties, said Jaki Brophy, a spokeswoman for Hop Growers of America and Washington Hop Commission in Yakima.

There’s also growth in the acreage for alpha varieties for large brewers in response to inconsistent overseas alpha production due to a lack of irrigation, she said.

“Historically there have been dramatic ups and downs in acreage, so this is promising to see things leveling out a little more. Time will tell. People are feeling optimistic about a more balanced market,” Brophy said.

“There always will be some outliers with more varieties in the ground, especially as people change recipes and some varieties are growing or decreasing,” she said.

A March 1 NASS report showing hop stocks down 2% from the previous March is a good indicator of balancing, she said, and illustrates closer communication and greater responsiveness of growers to brewers.

“Overall it’s a good thing to have acreage coming up and it looks to be a responsible amount, which we always are concerned about,” she said.

“Additional aroma acreage will continue to squeeze down the harvest window and place further pressure on existing harvesting infrastructure,” Pete Mahony, vice president of supply chain and purchasing for John I. Haas, Inc., Yakima, said in March.

Haas is a leading company in hop production, processing and research and development.

Domestic craft breweries are growing at 3 to 5% with the greatest growth among the smallest, Mahony said.

“We are now over 7,000 breweries in the U.S. and trending toward 10,000 in the near future,” he said.

Domestic craft breweries continue to use mostly aroma varieties, which is why 75% of U.S. acreage is aroma and 25% is alpha, Mahony said.

Hop dosage rates for craft beer continues a slight upward trend, in particular for the “long tail” of craft — small, local breweries, he said. It also results in more pounds of hops used to produce a barrel of beer.

Craft brewers also continue to develop export markets, he said.

The dip in March hop stocks indicates the overall supply remains in reasonably good balance. This year’s acreage increase could lead to a nearly 110 million-pound harvest, Mahony said. Production reached a record 107 million pounds in 2018.

Central Washington field reporter

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