Falling beer demand, crushing glut putting a chill on Eastern Washington hop crop


Washington hop growers are dramatically curtailing production amid a crushing glut and chilling demand for both craft and commercial beer.

In the language of the hop industry, growers "strung" about 33,000 acres in 2024.

That was a 15% drop from the year before, which was already reduced by 10%, according to figures released this month by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the statistical arm of the USDA.

A hop glut coupled with a dip in demand and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is behind the striking drop, said Maggie Elliot, science and communications director for the Hop Growers of Washington, a nonprofit industry association based in Yakima.

She said a record harvest in 2021 contributed to a massive oversupply.

Hops are viable for up to five years. A bumper crop one year can influence supplies for several years.

That said, growers are making long-term decisions as alcohol consumption trends shift away from both beer and wine, Elliot said.

"Craft beer has plateaued," she said.

Some growers idled their hop fields while they wait for the supply to balance demand and for new contracts.

But others are removing the trellis structures that hop vines cling to. They're replanting with Concord grapes and in some cases, row crops.

Nation's top producer

Washington is the nation's top hop grower, accounting for nearly 75% of the nation's total hop crop. Most hop farms are in the Yakima Valley, putting the Tri-Cities at the heart of the industry.

Hops were worth more than $435 million to Washington growers in 2023, making it the eighth most valuable crop after apples, milk, wheat, cattle, potatoes, hay and eggs,

The state isn't alone in curtailing hop production.

Idaho growers strung about 6,000 acres, down 31%, and Oregon growers strung 5,600 acres, an 18% decline. National plantings were down 18%, according to NASS figures.

Hops go in beer

Virtually all hops are used in brewing.

Ryan Wattenbarger, who owns Moonshot Brewing in Kennewick and Richland, traces the current woes to the craft beer boom that saw the industry grow by 10% a year.

Citra, a patented Yakima Valley hop variety, was in high demand and short supply about five years ago. Growers raced to keep up.

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and in-person dining and drinking abruptly stopped, the imbalance led to canceled contracts and more hops than brewers could use.

Citra lost its star status in a hurry. It is one of the most curtailed varieties in 2024, with 4,800 acres strung for harvest, compared to 6,300 in 2022.

Slow recovery

The post-pandemic recovery has been slow and while the Tri-Cities has largely been spared, Washington has lost a number of well-known brewers.

Mountain Lakes Brewing Co., a microbrewery in downtown Spokane, is closing June 29 after seven years in business.

The hop glut has lowered prices, but grain and other ingredients have only gotten more expensive.

"It is the one ingredient that has gone down," Wattenbarger said.

Overall beer consumption fell in the U.S. in 2023, according to the Brewers Association.

Overall, beer consumption and production both fell more than 5% while craft and import beers fell 1% each.

Domestic brews account for 63.6% of the $117 billion beer market, with imports claiming 23% and craft brews claiming a 13.3% share that was worth nearly $29 billion last year.


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