By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
WILDER – The rapid increase in Idaho hop production will continue this year, as Idaho’s hop growers plan to increase acreage by about 10 percent in 2019.
Idaho hop farmers plan to add about 800 new acres this year, said Idaho Hop Commission Chairman Brock Obendorf. If realized, that would push total hop acres in Idaho to 8,940 this year, up from 8,140 last year.
The significant increase in Idaho hop production that has occurred since 2011 has been driven by the craft brewing industry and Obendorf said this year’s increase in acres in the Gem State is related to “some switching to varieties that are in high demand” by craft brewers.
Idaho hop acreage has risen sharply since 2011, when 2,265 acres of the crop were harvested in the Gem State. That number rose to 2,596 in 2012 and then 3,356 in 2013, 3,743 in 2014, 4,863 in 2015, 5,648 in 2016, 7,125 in 2017 and 8,140 in 2018.
Idaho passed Oregon in production but not acreage in 2017 to become the No. 2 hop producing state in the nation, behind Washington, and Idaho last year passed Oregon in total acreage as well.
Idaho hop farmers produced 16.2 million pounds of hops last year, which was 15.5 percent of the nation’s total supply. Oregon produced 12.9 million pounds (12 percent) and Washington produced 77.7 million pounds (73 percent), according to Hop Growers of America.
The rest of the U.S. combined produces a minimal amount of hops.
The rise in Idaho hop production has coincided with a significant increase in U.S. hop production.
Total U.S. hop production reached a record 108 million pounds last year. Since 2012, U.S. hop acreage has increased by 95 percent, from 29,683 acres to 57,772 acres, according to HGA.
That increase has been a result of the nation’s fast-growing craft brewing industry, which has a hunger for aroma hops.
According to HGA, from 2012-2017, the variety balance between aroma and alpha hops shifted from about 50-50 to 80 percent aroma varieties. In 2018, alpha varieties regained some ground and the balance was roughly 74-26 in favor of aroma varieties.
During a presentation to Idaho lawmakers this year, Michelle Gooding, president of the Idaho Hop Growers Association, said Idaho had traditionally been an alpha hop state and before the explosion in demand for aroma varieties, the state’s hop industry faced an existential threat.
“There was a really dark time when hops weren’t going to be here in Idaho … but the craft revolution definitely changed that and it’s a pretty exciting time in the industry (now),” she said.
Gooding also pointed out that in 2012, Idaho will host the National Hop Convention for the first time in 30 years.
Obendorf said that with supply catching up with demand, he doesn’t see Idaho farmers adding a significant amount of new hop acres next year.
“It can’t keep going,” he said. “I think the market will start tilting to be oversupplied.”
Gooding told lawmakers that one of the questions she gets asked the most is when the hop market will crash.
“I don’t know but hopefully not soon,” she said. “We really have a lot of confidence in the ability of (hop growers) to produce a quality crop that they can (market).”
As Idaho hop acreage and production have exploded, the crop has risen rapidly up the state rankings of farm commodities in terms of total cash receipts.
Hops, which generated $86 million in revenue for Idaho farmers last year, jumped into the list of Idaho’s top 10 farm commodities in 2016 and could rise as high as No. 8 this year.
Along with the increase in hop acres, “We have had a lot of infrastructure invested into our area,” Gooding told legislators.
In 2017, Idaho got its first hop pelletizing plant, Mill 95. There are several other hop mills in the United States, most of which are in Washington.
A large majority of Idaho hops are processed into pellets for the brewing process and before Mill 95 went operational, all of them were shipped out of state. Mill 95 gives Idaho hop farmers the option of having their hops pelletized locally, which could reduce transportation costs.