Hope on the Hopvine

Some Yakima Valley hop growers are pulling other crops to add new acreage to hops in response to a worldwide shortage that caught everyone – brewers, dealers and growers – by surprise.

A decade of oversupply and low prices that sent acreage plummeting by more than a third is over, at least for now.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho grew hops on 30,911 acres last year, according to industry figures. Growers are feverishly reconditioning yards and adding new land at an unheard-of pace. Growers are receiving multiple-year contracts with prices front-loaded to help them shoulder the estimated $6,000-per-acre cost to plant yards and also upgrade equipment.

Growers couldn’t make investments like that when prices were depressed.

“It’s basic economics,” observed Ann George, administrator of the Moxee-based Washington Hop Commission. “When everyone started making orders, we found we had a shortage. The price went crazy. People are willing to spend large sums.”

Northwest hop acreage, which expanded by about 2,000 acres last year as the lack of supply became apparent, could grow by another 5,000 acres this year.

Ralph Olson, general manager of grower-owned HopUnion of Yakima, a buyer who deals primarily with smaller craft brewers, thinks the figure may be closer to 8,000 acres by the time all is said and done. That would be a jump of nearly 25 percent in acreage in one year.