U.S. surpasses Germany in hop production

A worker fastens trellis wire to poles about 15 feet above the ground for a new hop planting at a farm between Prosser and Benton City last March. The planting was postponed because of drought. Fields like this will be planted this year.

MOXEE, Wash. — For only the third time in the past 10 years, the United States bested Germany to lead the world in hop production last year, according to a final 2015 report by Hop Growers of America in Moxee.

The U.S. — overwhelmingly Washington, Oregon and Idaho — produced 80.2 million pounds of hops which was 42 percent of the world production, compared to Germany at 62.2 million pounds and 33 percent, according to the report.

The U.S. topped Germany in 2013 and 2009, but otherwise Germany has led since 2006. Taken as a whole, Europe always produces about half the world’s hops. After Europe and the U.S., China is the other main producer ranging from 6 to 16 percent.

Oil from hop cones is used for flavoring and stabilizing beer.

2015 was a tough year because of drought in Europe where rain, not irrigation, mostly waters the crop, said Ann George, executive director of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission. It was a difficult year for aroma varieties in Washington’s Yakima Valley because of drought and extreme heat early in the growing season during critical cone development, she said.

Total world hop production was 190.4 million pounds in 2015, down from 208.1 million in 2014 but greater than 178.4 million in 2013. The record in the past 10 years was 245 million in 2008.

Lower production in 2015 means a deficit in alpha hops which will be made up by inventories from past years, George said.

With Yakima Basin water reservoirs at 117 percent of normal and Washington’s snowpack at 109 percent of normal, more water for irrigation is anticipated along with higher yields and more acreage going into production, she said.

“The unusually high temperatures experienced this past summer were unprecedented and we do not anticipate a repeat of an early and persistent heat wave,” George said.

Some Yakima Valley growers held off on new plantings last spring because of drought but likely will resume normal plantings this spring, said Jaki Brophy, communications director of Hop Growers of America.

Craft beer brewery demand for aroma varieties of hops continues to drive demand and India pale ale continues to be the clear beer style favorite with two times the volume in 2015 over 2011, Brophy said.

“Going through our statistics, it is clear that growers are putting more hops in the ground to meet the needs of both domestic and international brewers,” George said.

It was promising, she said, that the Brewers Association reported, at the recent Hop Growers of America national convention, that about 95 percent of its members are contracting their hop supply.

The more contracts growers and merchants have, the better they can serve domestic and global brewers, and it’s “a pretty big gamble” for brewers to rely on the spot market, she said.

For the second year in a row, the Hop Growers of America report includes acreage harvested outside the Pacific Northwest. Michigan leads at 320 acres, New York is 250, Wisconsin 170, Colorado 125 and California is at 85.

Washington harvested 32,158 acres of hops in 2015, Oregon 6,612 and Idaho 4,863.

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