Idaho hops

Hop vines as harvest approaches. Stocks are up compared to the same time last year, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reports.

Hop stocks on March 1 were up 9% from a year ago, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reports.

Increased acreage is a factor, industry sources said. And while overall beer consumption is down slightly, sales of hop-demanding craft beer keep growing.

Washington, Idaho and Oregon lead in U.S. hop production. Washington produced 73% of the U.S. crop in 2019, Idaho 15% and Oregon 12%, NASS said. The three states’ combined output last year rose 5% in pounds and 3% in acres. Yields increased.

NASS said the March 1 hop inventory held by growers, dealers and brewers totaled 180 million pounds — 145 million held at dealer and grower locations and 35 million held by brewers — up from 165 million a year earlier.

John Taberna, owner and soil scientist at Western Laboratories in Parma, Idaho, said larger stocks reflect additional acres planted in the past three years — it takes about two years for the plants to reach full production — and recently slower movement of inventories due to lower beer consumption. Hop exports also have been lower as European yields have been holding steady.

Jaki Brophy of the Washington Hop Commission and Hop Growers of America said that as acreage grows — it has nearly doubled since 2012 — so do stocks.

Also impacting storage volume at a given moment: More breweries receive deliveries through the year rather than getting a shipment of all of their hops at once.

“More storage is being utilized with the merchants, as brewery preference has moved to on-demand deliveries,” Brophy said. “Additionally, as there are more varieties that are being released and utilized by breweries, that increases storage due to having more ‘items.’”

D&M Chem Inc. in Moxee, Wash., consults with hop growers in the state’s high-volume central region. President Dee Gargus said the most recent year-to-year change in stocks may not be especially significant.

“It’s hard to say,” he said. “A lot of factors go into it with all the microbreweries coming online and existing microbreweries. That is worldwide.”

“It seems like all the different brewers and microbreweries are trying different combinations of hops,” Gargus said.

He said he has heard that some growers have been re-thinking earlier plans to plant some acres in light of concerns about COVID-19 and related recent closures of bars and restaurants.

Chris Swersey, supply chain specialist and competition manager with the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., said the industry pays most attention to the fall NASS report.

“From our annual craft brewer hop-usage surveys, we know that overall craft brewer demand for hops has increased steadily in recent beer-production years,” he said. “The March U.S. inventory number reflects many factors that are not visible to us, including seasonal inventory fluctuations, exports, imports and large-brewer usage.

“Because the September number reflects the carryout from the previous crop year, we consider it more indicative of overall industry health,” Swersey said.

As of last Sept. 1, NASS reported a 2% year-to-year gain in hop stocks.

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