The 66th American Hop Convention was held in Tampa, Florida in January. Attended by hop growers and brewers from around the world the conference programme covers the latest research into hop growing, looks at emerging trends in US hop varieties, and outlines the status of hop demand and supply levels since the 2021 harvest.
The convention is also a great place to share best practice and learn about the latest innovations in hop farming to ensure product quality and hop yields are optimised. Will Kirby attended the event for Brook House Hops along with our colleagues from Yakima Chief Hops.
In a year affected by Covid restrictions and extreme weather conditions there have been significant challenges for growers and brewers alike so we were very keen to discover how this might affect availability and hop preferences for brewers in the year ahead.
The main concerns on the hop production side were related to the expected tightening of restrictions related to EU MRLs (Maximum Residue Limits) over the next few years, and the increasing price of labour. The EU ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy aims to accelerate the transition to a more sustainable food system that will require food production to have a neutral or positive impact on the environment. This means plant protection products cannot be used during production if residue poses a health risk on consumption, or are known to damage the environment and wildlife in the country of production. Certain hop varieties that require this sort of protection to eliminate disease or pests may be more difficult to export to the EU in the future. Currently, UK regulations are aligned to this EU framework, although there are expectations that this could gradually change in the coming years.
Overall global hop supply remains reasonably well balanced with beer volumes as the 2020 hop surplus is still covering shortfalls in 2021 production caused by the extreme heat experienced in the US in June last year.
Unsurprisingly craft beer consumption was adversely affected by Covid restrictions in the US, but not nearly as much as cask beer was in the UK. The US saw the closure of taprooms and restaurants, in particular, result in a shift in consumption towards supermarket lagers, and less fresh beer being sold. However, there are hopes that a return to growth in craft in 2022 is a realistic prospect as overall consumption in 2021 was on par with that of 2019.
Although there has been some switching out of certain varieties, US hop acreage is expected to remain flat for the first time in many years, which suggests there are enough hops in the ground to satisfy demand, including some of the most popular varieties. Statistically the hops US brewers would like more of are Citra, Mosaic, Strata, Galaxy and Nectaron.
Sustainability & Zero Carbon
The drive toward zero carbon and improving sustainability throughout the whole production process was a key topic for growers and brewers alike. Major breweries including AB InBev and the trade associations outlined how important this is to them and to consumers when looking at suppliers.
US hop growers clearly recognise this and have seen again the damaging effects of climate change and extreme weather events impacting crops and growing conditions.
Our own work at Brook House Hops in recent months including our new fully solar-powered cold storage facility is yet another step in the right direction of reducing our carbon footprint and offsets another 14 tonnes of CO2 every year. Alongside our river management, tree planting and rewilding schemes and our use of farming technology to minimise our use of plant protection products, we can be confident that we’re leading the way from a hop production perspective here in the UK.