by Courtney Llewellyn

Every year toward the end of December, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) releases a report of special interest to a relatively small group of growers in the Northwest – the National Hop Report.

Hops are the flowers necessary for the brewing of beer. (Hops can also be used in herbal teas and soft drinks. The hop flowers can be eaten – the young shoots of the bine are edible and can be cooked in a fashion similar to asparagus.) The annual hop report reports the area harvested, the yield, production, the price per pound and the value of production, by variety, state and for the country, and notes changes in these values from previous years. The states represented in this report are Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

The headline highlighting the 2018 report noted hop production was up 1 percent from 2017 – marginal growth through the rosiest of glasses. Production in the three states surveyed totaled a record high of 107 million pounds (with 106 million pounds produced in 2017). Up 2 percent this year was the combined area harvested in Idaho, Oregon and Washington: another record high with 55,035 acres, versus 2017’s 53,989 acres.

Washington continued to be a powerhouse producer, harvesting 73 percent of the U.S. hop crop for 2018. Idaho accounted for another 15 percent of the country’s total, and Oregon produced the remaining 12 percent. Cascade, Citra, Zeus, Centennial, Simcoe and C/T/Z were the six leading varieties in Washington, accounting for 49 percent of the state’s hop production. In Idaho, Zeus, Chinook, Amarillo, Cascade, Citra and Mosaic were the major varieties, making up 70 percent of the state’s hop production. Nugget, Cascade, Willamette and Citra were the major varieties in Oregon, accounting for 52 percent of the state’s hop production.

While harvested acreage increased in Idaho and Washington, it declined in Oregon – even though the yield per acre increased there. The U.S. hop yield, at 1,943 pounds per acre, declined 13 pounds from what was produced a year ago.

The value of production for the U.S. totaled $583 million in 2018, down 1 percent from 2017. Of note should be the totals per state, however: Idaho’s value of production grew 23 percent, from $70.3 million to $86.1 million, and even though Oregon’s harvested area shrank, its value of production went from $62.3 million to $69.9 million – about 11 percent. Washington decreased in yield per acre, price per pounds and overall production, resulting in a 7 percent drop in value of production.

Ann George, administrator of the Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, credits better weather in the region for the increase in hop growth over the past two years. Production jumped from 87 million pounds in 2016 to this past year’s 107 million.

The drop in the value of production may have to do with oversupply, but there are a lot of variables, according to George. “We have over 60 hop varieties in the U.S. and over 100 in the world and each one has a micro market. It’s difficult for the merchant sector to maintain adequate inventories of all the different varieties,” she said.

Enthusiasm remains high for the crop, and craft brewer sales continued to increase over the year, though at a slower pace than in years past. The Hop Quality Group will be presenting the seventh annual Cascade Cup 2018 on the morning of Jan. 25 at the American Hop Convention to a grower showcasing the best Cascade hop from the 2018 harvest. The 63rd annual American Hop Convention is taking place Jan. 23 – 25 in Monterey, CA.