Hops. You know them. You love them. You need them. Growing season is underway, but just how much is going to grow? Funny you should ask, as we have a whole post here to roundup hop growing stories from around the country. We start in the Northwest — Washington, Oregon and Idaho — where last month’s hop report (the most crucial of hop reports), forecasts 16 percent growth in the region for this year, or 43,987 total acres:
If realized, this will be the third highest total harvested acreage on record. Washington, with 32,205 acres for harvest, accounts for 73 percent of the United States total acreage. Oregon hop growers plan to string 6,807 acres, or 16 percent of the United States total, with Idaho hop growers accounting for the remaining 11 percent, or 4,975 acres strung for harvest. Acreage increased in all three States from 2014 and, if realized, both Washington and Idaho acres will be at record high levels.
The 2015 hop crop has been reported as very good, with normal pest and disease pressure. In Washington’s Yakima Valley, growers utilized efficient drip irrigation systems to conserve water and were supplementing reduced irrigation district supplies with groundwater. Growing areas in Idaho and Oregon have adequate irrigation water.
This is good news for sure, and for more in-depth info on the yields of certain varieties, check out this Brewers Association post.
But within that big picture are a lot of small, cool stories, like that of Nate Jackson, owner of Jackson Hop Farm, who started growing hops in Wilder, Idaho, in 2008, sensing (ahem) a growing opportunity (it’s seriously hard to write hop articles without puns).
From the Idaho Press:
“The price of hops really spiked in ‘08, and it made it possible for my dad and I to put in 60 acres and acquire an old facility built in 1958,” he said.
Jackson Hop Farm has grown since, but for the local craft breweries, just those 60 acres can hold immense value.
Sockeye Brewery in Boise, which uses Jackson’s hops, is grateful for that extra acreage.
“When we started production and packaging in cans, we really needed to find a source for more hops, and Nate added some more acreage at about the right time,” said Dawn Bolen, marketing assistant at Sockeye. “… Nate’s been really instrumental in helping Sockeye grow.”
The brewery relies on Idaho hops for some of its main beers, and more than 90 percent of those hops come from the Wilder area, she said.
The Idaho Press article is great and worth your time, especially for the insight into Jackson’s organic growing techniques:
Last week, Jackson planned to unleash thousands of lady bugs into his organic hops to naturally take care of pests. He also uses a drip irrigation system to efficiently water the crop.
But the hop growing bug is biting beyond that fertile Northwest region, too. We head now to the Midwest, Iowa to be exact, where it’s not all corn crops and mystic baseball diamonds in them there fields.
From Radio Iowa:
[Owner of the Peace Tree Brewing Co. Megan] McKay says efforts are underway to grow more hops for beer in Iowa. “There’s a hop farm that they are working on over in Solon. I just met a women who is putting part of her 40 acres into hops up in northwest Iowa. There’s a couple of others, kind of scattered throughout the state,” according to McKay. “The big problem with that is they can grow them — but for us to use them in a large commercial brewery they usually need to be dried down into hop flakes or dried down and palletized so that it preserves the aromas and flavors.”
OK, so it’s still mostly corn fields and mystic baseball diamonds, but it’s a start. And perhaps more promising, there is interest beyond a few eccentric local farmers in cultivating more of a hop industry as “Iowa State University has a program that is helping growers learn about hops,” according to the Radio Iowa article.
Academia is taking up the hop cause in the Hoosier state, too, where Purdue University sponsored a growers’ conference, put out a report this year about best practices in managing hops’ weeds, diseases and pests and is working on a half-acre experimental plot to try and grow six varieties of hops.
From the Journal Gazette:
In Indiana, the largest grower of hops is Sugar Creek Hops in Thorntown, which planted five acres of the crop beginning in 2014.
The family-owned business also brokers hops from other growers and ships hops domestically and internationally, president Spencer Gray says.
The company also has a small breeding program using wild hops found in Indiana and will open a state-of-the art processing plant in August, he says.
Again, obviously, small quantities, but the batch of a million brews must begin with the single hop leaf. Or something. Cheers (and good luck!), to all of you aspiring hop barons out there. CBB salutes you.