Market for hops could go from bloom to bust as growth in craft beer slows

The Yakima Valley supplies most of the nation’s hops, but a doubling of acreage in recent years and a slowdown in craft breweries’ growth have left farmers with too much of the pungent crop on their hands.

YAKIMA — Slowing growth in the craft-brewing industry has contributed to a greater stockpile of hops nationwide, including the Yakima Valley.

As of Sept. 1, growers, suppliers and brewers had an estimated 98 million pounds of hops, an increase of 15 percent from the same period in 2016, according to figures released late last week from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

And the amount of hops stock kept by growers and suppliers increased — by 30 percent to 64 million pounds — while the amount of hops in stock by brewers decreased by 5 percent.

Hops by the numbers

97.6 million

Pounds of hops U.S. hop growers are expected to harvest this year.

72 million

Pounds of hops — 74 percent of all U.S. hops grown — expected to come from the Yakima Valley.

54,000

Acres of hops in the U.S., close to double the acreage from 2012

Source: U.S. Department of Agricultural National Agricultural Statistics Service

“A lot of (breweries) purchased hops based on 15 to 18 percent growth, which is what we experienced over the five years prior to last year,” said Steve Carpenter, chief operating officer of YCH Hops, a hop supplier that is owned by local hop growers.

“Last year, we had 5 to 6 percent growth” in craft breweries, he said, citing 2016 figures from the Brewers Association, a trade group for craft brewers.

The Yakima Valley will supply a projected 74 percent of all U.S. hops grown this year. The nation’s hop growers are expected to harvest 97.6 million pounds of hops,

Last month, local hop supplier 47 Hops filed for bankruptcy, stating that a number of brewers have delayed payment and delivery of hops under contract, prompting financial challenges. Brewers work with hop growers and/or suppliers to secure hops through contracts made years in advance.

However, the hop stock numbers do not tell the whole story, Carpenter said. Certain varieties, such Citra, are still in high demand and supply is still playing catchup. Citra is a hop commonly used in beer varieties such as India pale ale or IPA.

“You’ll find five different renditions of IPA at any size of craft brewer,” he said.

Responding to continued demand for certain varieties while avoiding an…

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