Idaho hop acres expected to increase by almost 1,100

Farm workers set up strings that will train emerging hop plants in a field near Wilder, Idaho, March 30. Industry leaders expect hop acres in Idaho to increase by almost 1,100 acres this year.

WILDER, Idaho — Idaho hop acres are expected to increase significantly again this year, as farmers in the nation’s No. 3 hop producing state respond to continued demand from the craft brewing industry.

Hop producer Brock Obendorf and industry consultant Roger Keske both anticipate Idaho growers will add close to 1,100 acres this year, which would be a 29 percent increase over the 2014 total of 3,812 acres.

“It’s all because of the growth in the craft brewing industry and the new aroma varieties they’re wanting,” Obendorf said.

All the new hop acres in Idaho this year are being planted to the aroma varieties preferred by craft brewers, said Keske, a soil and crop agronomist out of Richland, Wash., who consults on about 2,000 hop acres in Idaho.

He said craft brewers are offering Idaho farmers a good price for the new acres. “They love the aromas and they’re willing to pay for them.”

According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, hop acreage in Idaho has increased from 2,423 in 2012 to 3,376 in 2013 and 3,812 in 2014.

“We’ve got a couple of new growers in Idaho bringing new acres on as well as existing growers who are adding acres. It’s exciting,” said Hop Growers of America Administrator Ann George.

Based on USDA data for hop acres, average yields and total production, Idaho this year could come close to Oregon, which ranked No. 2 last year in hop production at 8.2 million pounds. Idaho was third with 6.9 million pounds.

Oregon growers expect to add another 500 to 600 acres this year, but Idaho’s average yields are much higher.

Washington, by far the nation’s No. 1 hop state, and Oregon have also added significant acreage in the past few years but Idaho’s percentage increases have been much higher.

Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, which represents independent craft brewers in this country, said Idaho is a prime spot for growth in the industry because of its comparatively cheaper cost structure.

“One of the reasons Idaho’s hop acres are growing so fast is that it’s cheaper to expand in Idaho,” he said.

Production by the U.S. craft brewing industry grew by 18 percent last year and it’s grown by double-digit margins during seven of the last nine years, Watson said.

Craft brewers had 11 percent of the domestic beer market share by volume in 2014, up from 7.8 percent in 2013, and Watson said that’s expected to reach 20 percent by 2020.

Because craft brewers use roughly four times as much hops to produce beer than the industry average, a lot more hops will need to be grown to meet that demand, he said.

“Idaho has a big role to play in this going forward,” he said. “It’s a prime spot for expansion of the hop industry.”

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