While the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho account for approximately 97 percent of America’s total hop production, a small but growing number of hop yards have cropped up in regions outside of the Pacific Northwest.
Chris Swersey, supply chain specialist with the Brewers Association, estimates there are at least 30 other states with some level of commercial hop acreage. Taken together, these will account for between 2 and 3 percent of the 2018 domestic crop. As small as the percentages are, it’s still a significant shift.
“Five years ago, probably only 1/100th—or 1/1000th—of 1 percent of total hop acreage was outside the Pacific Northwest,” Swersey says. “It’s changing very rapidly.”
The barrier to entry is high—both in investment and in infrastructure—and is often a matter of scale. The cost to establish a new hop yard, including irrigation, a trellis system and the plants themselves, runs at least $12,000 per acre. The equipment needed to harvest, process, and package hops is also prohibitively expensive. “I don’t know how to make it pay for itself if it’s fewer than 50 acres,” Swersey says.
Hops are also difficult to grow south of 40° north latitude, and soil type, climate and day length all impact the plant’s productivity.
Despite the logistical and financial challenges, however, new operations continue to come online. Several states—including Vermont, New York, Virginia, and Nebraska—have established hop associations and guilds to support the burgeoning industry. Most of these operations are intentionally tiny, serving only a handful of area brewers or only providing freshly picked hops (which don’t require drying and processing) to brewers making wet-hop beers.
Some growers are locating small craft breweries on their farms, growing hops and other crops to support the venture. Still others are forming cooperatives to purchase harvesting equipment and processing facilities; this is the model Hopunion started within the Pacific Northwest. The company has since merged with Yakima Chief to form the nation’s largest hop supplier.