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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Despite weather issues, Yakima Valley hop harvest yields expected to approach 2018 levels

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 4, 2019, 8:28 p.m.

The sun sets over field 15 as hops plants grow onto coconut fiber ropes toward the trellis 18 feet tall at Loftus Ranches, a fourth-generation hop farm in the Yakima Valley on May 22, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The sun sets over field 15 as hops plants grow onto coconut fiber ropes toward the trellis 18 feet tall at Loftus Ranches, a fourth-generation hop farm in the Yakima Valley on May 22, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
By Mai Hoang Tribune News Service

Cold and snowy weather in March created complications for the hops planted in the Yakima Valley and the Pacific Northwest.

But mild summer weather helped the more mature hops farther along in a multiyear production cycle.

Overall, regional hop growers are expecting a solid harvest.

“I think most everyone feels this year’s crop will be at least equivalent to last year,” said Ann George, executive director of the Hop Growers of America, a Yakima-based organization that provides promotion and education to American hop growers.

For most growers, the Yakima Valley harvest started early last week and is expected to continue through the rest of this month.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho grow nearly all U.S. hops, with Washington alone growing 75% of the nation’s crop. Most Washington hops are grown in the Yakima Valley.

Last year, hop growers in the three states harvested 106.9 million pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures analyzed by the Hop Growers of America. Just over 77.7 million pounds came from Washington.

Based on a grower survey, the USDA estimate for this year’s crop is at 106 million pounds. Final figures won’t be ready until December, several months after the harvest ends, George said. That estimate is less than a million pounds below the 2018 crop, but still be well above the 87.1 million pounds harvested in 2016.

Typically, new hops are planted during the early spring in the Yakima Valley and the Treasure Valley of Idaho, where weather conditions usually enable those plants to produce 80% of the yield of a mature plant in the first year.

Hop growers in other regions usually have to wait a year to harvest a new hop plant.

With snow on the ground well into March, hop growers experienced delays in planting hops.

That meant the hops had less exposure to the sunshine and heat they needed to grow, which is expected to result in a lower yield, said Ben St. Mary, partner and hops operation manager for Black Star Ranch.

The baby hops “never really caught up,” he said.

In contrast, the mild temperatures this summer allowed mature hop plants to grow more slowly and created additional flowering points on the hop bines, which equals more cones, he said.

“I feel really good about our mature stuff. We’re expecting average to a little bit better (than average),” he said.

Hop growers are keeping a close watch on yields from the baby hops of in-demand varieties, such as Citra, which is commonly used by craft brewers in India pale ales.

Citra is an aroma hop, which is used by brewers to get a certain flavor profile. Such hops are popular with craft breweries.

When hop growers supplied primarily to macrobreweries, they grew more alpha hops, which were primarily used as a bittering agent to offset a beer’s sweetness.

Aroma hops have maintained their popularity thanks to growing interest in craft breweries not just in the U.S. but internationally, George said.

“Certainly, as the growth in the U.S. craft beer has slowed a bit and has matured, we’re started to see continued efforts in other parts of the world to emulate more robust beer styles,” she said.

Steve Carpenter, chief supply chain officer for Yakima Chief Hops, a Yakima-based, grower-owned supplier, said some baby hops may not be harvested at all and the ones that do may produce about 40 to 50 percent of a mature plant’s yield.

As a result, Yakima Chief Hops stopped selling Citra and Mosaic hops from the 2019 crop in May.

Generally, breweries secure contracts with suppliers for a certain amount of hops several years in advance. Whatever isn’t contracted is sold on the spot market. With Yakima Chief Hops’ decision, brewers wouldn’t be able to secure additional Citra or Mosaic hops from the 2019 crop beyond what they had contracted for already.

With the expected drop in production from the new hop plants, Yakima Chief Hops wanted to wait to see how much would be harvested before selling more of the two varieties, Carpenter said.

“We don’t want to sell more than we have available,” he said.

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