Hop Harvest 2016: What to expect

Now that we are in September, here is what we expect for the coming harvest. We will focus primarily on the U.S. and Germany, which make up approximately 80% of the world’s hop production in 2016. Except for some risk loving Washington hop growers planning to pick into October, one month from now harvest in the Northern Hemisphere will be over, but it promises to be a long month ahead.

United States (Est. 38% of 2016 World Hop Production)

A barrage of brewers will storm Yakima over the coming weeks. The fields they will see during their tours of the valley will be very mixed. Everybody strives to put their best foot forward and show only the good stuff, but that will be increasingly difficult as the days progress. For the moment, there are good fields that seem they could deliver amazing yields and there are others that don’t look very impressive at all. Yakima enjoys a high desert climate, but untimely weather, from heat to cold to humidity, have played a role in Washington’s crop so far this year. It has been a roller coaster ride so far and we’re not even to the fun part! Extreme heat early in the year caused early bloom across most varieties. That typically means reduced yields. Up until one week ago growers were very optimistic about the coming yield. Perhaps they were a bit too optimistic. There was talk of above average yields in most varieties. Some on social media were even calling it a bumper crop. Growers were starting to search for extra storage and places to sell their over production. That has all changed now that we are in harvest. Early varieties that have been harvested at the time of this writing are yielding very mixed results with regards to quality and quantity. As a result, production estimates and optimism are coming down.

All good hop yards are alike, but all bad hop yards are bad in their own way.

– Had Tolsoy been a hop farmer, I think he would have said that.

The hop world is like a puzzle. Upon closer inspection of those lower yielding varieties, there is plenty to look at. Only when you have all the pieces together can you clearly see the entire picture. Unfortunately, nobody knows where all the pieces are, so we do the best we can. For the moment, some hops look great in the field, but some cones are not weighing out, which is the grower term for cones not being as heavy as expected, translating into lower yields overall. The problem is that everybody only finds out about light cones when the growers are making the bales since it takes more hops to make one bale. That’s kind of late in the game to learn that your crop is 10-20% short! Other growers are having trouble with powdery mildew due to the weather, which, in Washington State, has been more humid than normal. That can lead to lower yields. Still others are maturing quicker than normal due to the heat the past couple weeks. That maturity means hops dry out in the field prematurely, which means higher HSIs. When they get too dry, hops can shatter in the picking machine. That too can lead to reduced yields. You’re probably starting to sense a trend here. Many fields are already starting to show some color, which is a grower term to nicely say they’re turning a color other than green. As any hop enthusiast will know, that is not the goal. It means they’re ripening quicker than expected. Equally concerning is the weather forecast for September. During the next couple weeks, nighttime temperatures in the Yakima valley will reach into the 30’s (Fahrenheit) and there is rain forecasted by the middle of September. That’s a long time from now for a weatherman’s prediction to be accurate, so we will see if it actually happens. Suffice it to say that rain during September combined with the colder temperatures would not be a good thing.

Our estimate, at the moment, is that we will likely see a below average performance for the crop overall. There can still be a “record crop” as so many journalists are eager to point out for the click bait headlines it provides. Brewers hoping for discounted hop prices after harvest though should be very careful interchanging the words “record” for “surplus”. They are not synonymous. The hop world is more fragmented now than ever in its history. Some varieties will perform better than expected and there will be a surplus of those varieties. Other varieties will experience a deficit. There will be the usual propaganda by the owners of some of some proprietary varieties in their crop reports to paint the performance of their varieties in a positive light while highlighting the weaknesses in the performance of the public varieties they so desperately seek to replace. It is in their interest to do just that. Let us not forget, they own those varieties and will receive tens of millions of dollars in royalties alone each year if people continue to drink their Kool Aid.

hops-on-the-truck

Germany: (Est. 38% of 2016 World Hop Production)

When we were in Germany a couple weeks ago, we heard from growers that the crop would not set any records, but it is not so bad either. That’s a nice way for a good conservative Bavarian hop farmer to say he thinks it might be a good crop without jinxing himself. In fact, the crop there looked beautiful everywhere we looked with only the very rare field having any trouble. Since our visit, we hear things have only improved. The weather forecast is for more ideal weather in the German growing regions through the remainder of harvest. If that happens, we expect above average yields from Germany across the board. This, in contrast to last year, when yields were down significantly, demonstrates how variable the crop can be from one year to the next and how much risk is inherent in the system. 

img_2080

Slovenia: (Est. 2.3% of 2016 World Hop Production)

We will also single out Slovenia as an additional country to mention, although it is one of the smaller hop producing countries, because we ended the report on Germany mentioning the weather and risk. This week the Slovenian growing regions experienced a violent hailstorm that devastated part of the crop. Prior to the storm, growers there expected above average yields overall. Afterward, they will likely only see average yields at best. This just reinforces the old hop grower saying that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s in the bale.

img_2236

img_2234

Photos: Courtesy of SLOHOPS