The Indie Hops company wants to develop a breeding program at Oregon State University aimed at craft breweries, but the proposal has met with some skepticism.

Most farmers grow hops suited to large brewing operations, so the cultivars developed for Indie Hops' clients probably wouldn't be widely accepted by the industry, said Doug Weathers, a grower near Salem.

Craft breweries don't buy nearly as many hops as their larger counterparts, so most farmers couldn't simply switch to Indie Hops varieties, he said. "The market cap is small."

Of the $6 billion worth of beer sold annually in the U.S., roughly 6 percent is produced by craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association.

However, craft breweries saw their sales increase 9 percent during the first half of 2009, while overall beer sales slid about 1 percent, according to the association.

"The craft segment is growing and will outpace the growth of the brewing industry as a whole," said Solberg.

Solberg is surprised Indie Hops has become the subject of controversy, particularly since the company intends to eventually open proprietary cultivars to the public, he said.

"Everything we're doing, and going to be doing, is in support of Oregon's hop-growing future," Solberg said.

-- Mateusz Perkowski

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