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Idaho hop growers plan to add about 700 new acres

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

WILDER – Idaho will likely solidify its spot as the No. 2 hop producing state in the nation this year, as Gem State hop farmers plan to add about 700 acres in 2018.

Idaho last year became the No. 2 hop producing state for the first time, bumping Oregon into the No. 3 spot. Washington is the unchallenged No. 1 hop state.

Oregon’s hop industry is not expecting any additional acres this year, said Oregon Hop Commission Administrator Michelle Palacios.

Idaho hop farmers produced 13.7 million pounds of hops last year from 6,993 acres, while Oregon growers produced 11.9 million pounds from 7,851 acres.

Idaho hop yields averaged 1,968 pounds per acre last year, compared with 1,517 in Oregon.

“I don’t expect any new acres this year,” Palacios said. “Idaho passed us in production last year and there’s a chance they could also pass us in acres this year.”

She said Idaho passing Oregon for the No. 2 spot was kind of a non-event and there weren’t any hard feelings because the success of Idaho’s hop growers reflects the health of the entire industry.

“We’re all in this together,” Palacios said. “Individually, our growers are in a good place so whether we’re No. 2 or No. 3 in any particular year is just the way the market is.”

Idaho, Oregon and Washington, which together produce almost all of the hops grown in the United States, have added an unprecedented amount of hop acres in the past several years but many industry leaders are cautioning against adding more acres in 2018, according to the Hop Growers of America’s annual Statistical Report, which was released in February.

Driven by demand for aroma hops from the craft brewing industry, U.S. hop acreage has increased 80 percent since 2012 and production by 77 percent, according to the report.

The 2017 U.S. hop harvest broke the 100-million-pound mark for the first time.

“All key indicators suggest current aroma hop demand has largely been satisfied by the unprecedented expansion of U.S. acreage in recent years,” the HGA report states. “Industry leaders also encouraged brewers to continue contracting for forecasted hop needs but advised to do so cautiously and pragmatically given the unpredictability of craft consumer demand and the recent slow-down of craft volume growth.”

Given that supply has caught up with demand, “There doesn’t need to be any new acres, for quite a while,” said Idaho hop grower Brock Obendorf, chairman of the Idaho Hop Commission.

“Nationally, there is an oversupply of hops,” said Idaho hop farmer Mike Gooding. “Things will have to balance out for a couple of years.”

He said this year’s additional acres in Idaho are due to previously signed contracts.

Gooding said the current supply-demand situation will allow him to pull about 100 acres out of production next year to give those fields a chance to rest, and he’s probably not the only Idaho grower who will do that.

“You’ll probably see acres go down 200-300 next year just as a management practice,” he said. “If you can rest the fields for two or three years, it really helps.”

Idaho hop growers have added acres at a rapid pace since 2012, when they totaled 2,423, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. They increased to 3,376 in 2013 and then 3,745 in 2014, 4,863 in 2015, 5,648 in 2016 and 6,993 in 2017.

Most of those acres are located around Wilder, Notus and Homedale in southwestern Idaho.

“The growth has been really incredible and everybody locally has noticed it,” said D.J. Tolmie, operations manager of Mill 95, Idaho’s first hop pelletizing plant, which opened last year largely in response to the Idaho hop industry’s rapid growth.