2016 Hop Crop Report
Charles Faram & Co Ltd
In response to demand from the global craft beer market we have seen a huge increase in hop acreage this year. The higher prices have encouraged growers to invest in new picking facilities, new kilns and a total of 4,000 extra hectares (nearly 10,000 acres) worldwide. To put that into perspective that is over 4 times more than the total UK crop planted globally in just one year! This also means that at a total of 55,000 hectares, worldwide hop acreage is at its highest level since 2009.
High prices are a great way to encourage planting (growers will only invest in something when they can see a return) and this is certainly evident in the US market where over 80% of the extra hectares have been planted. Proprietary varieties such as Citra®, Simcoe®, Amarillo® and Mosaic® have seen the highest prices in recent years and the level of plantings unsurprisingly correspond. This coupled with the fact that variety owners are also able to ask the growers to pull out any surplus production has given the growers confidence to invest without the worry of a possible collapse in price if overproduction occurs.
The USA, now the biggest producer of hops worldwide at an estimated 21,440 ha has seen a 17.1% increase in acreage this year. This headline figure does not tell the true story though as the detail behind it is quite astonishing. The alpha varieties are being grubbed in large volumes (-615ha), in favour of the new Aroma varieties (+3,748ha). Significant drops are in CTZ (Columbus, Tomahawk & Zeus) -339ha, Apollo -101ha and Bravo -76ha. Significant increases are in the aroma varieties Citra® +624ha, Cascade +483ha, Simcoe® +442ha and Mosaic® +376ha. Chinook and Centennial are both close behind at just under +300ha each. The growers have responded to the huge demand for these intensely flavoured hops and the excellent prices that they can achieve. It does leave a question as to where the alpha is now going to come from and this could become a very big issue as existing alpha acreage and stocks in brewery stores reduce.
The growing season in the US has not been perfect although yields of the aroma varieties are in line with long term averages. The main problem seems to be in the high alpha varieties which were very disappointing. Early growth was very strong in excellent growing conditions, it was so good that the hops had to be burned back several times to stop them from getting away too early. However it is believed that this burning off reduced vigour in the plants and in the end effected the overall yields, particularly in the high alpha varieties. It is estimated that the total harvest is only about 10% higher than last year which is understandable when you consider this and that there are many baby hops not yet at full production.
In Germany and Eastern Europe growing conditions were excellent with rain at steady intervals during the growing season. Irrigation which was so heavily relied on last year wasn’t needed anywhere near as much and plant grew healthily and strongly. The harvest came in well and could have been even better had a heatwave not descended during the middle of September. Late varieties were effected but overall the yields were still well above average.
In the UK a very mild winter caused problems again with vernalisation (particularly in Bramling Cross). The warm wet weather encouraged good growth through May but then a mini drought in June and July really slowed the plants down at a critical time. Laterals did not grow out as well as expected and bines looked thinner and less developed than normal. High winds in August and a heatwave in mid-September caused some varieties to discolour. In some areas the damage also allowed in late powdery mildew which also spoiled sample appearance. Yields have been average or slightly below. The acreage is believed to have increased by 8.5% this year which is the biggest increase for a very, very long time.
The market is in an interesting position. On one hand it could be said that too many hops have been planted as world beer production is down again. On the other hand it is said that more intensely hoppy beers are being sold which adds to demand. With new countries experimenting with hoppy flavours it will really depend on the acceptance of drinkers to these new flavours. The USA is planning to plant another 4,000 acres this year which is another big increase. Hopefully these hops will all be required and there will not be a surplus grown.
The other unknown is the stock of alpha in the big breweries. As these stocks and the alpha acreage in the USA reduce it will fall more heavily on Germany to grow for this market. If the German growers do not plant sufficient then there could be a clamour for alpha.
There are lots of variables to consider and it is very difficult to predict what will happen after the next harvest but it is important that brewers accurately contract for their requirements and that growers do not plant without a contract. The industry has invested a huge amount of money and an oversupply situation would certainly not put it in the best place.