Will climate change affect hop supply?

I received a very nice email from a reader who had just returned from his local brewers’ guild meeting. He mentioned that during the meeting some of the larger brewers brought up the topic of climate change and security of hop supply in the future. Specifically, he asked if existing farmers would be interested in investing in other regions within North America that have more stable weather. My reply to him follows. Enjoy.

 

Dear Geoff,

Since climate change is such a politicized issue, let me preface what I will write by saying first that I believe the climate is changing. WHY seems to be the real question. I’m not sure whether it’s man made or just a natural part of the Earth’s cycles, but weather seems to be changing. That said, I don’t think climate change is a serious threat to the hop supply for the foreseeable future. Looking for an alternative growing region for hops just to solve a potential problem people imagine climate change might cause would be a wasted effort. Until another region can produce hops more efficiently than the Pacific Northwest, there’s no need for the industry to move anywhere. If that happens, the industry will naturally move there on its own, just like it has in the past, driven by market forces. That would most likely be a very quick migration based on the importance of price to brewers.

With all due respect … My guess is that brewers who are overly concerned about climate change like the politics of the climate change issue. When I hear people with those types of views, I often wonder if they are practicing what they preach in real life. Do they eat a vegan diet, ride a bike to work, grow their own vegetables and only buy products that are locally sourced to save the environment. I like all those ideas, and I try my best to live that way when I can. We all need to be a little more thoughtful about the environment, but I have to be honest that I am not so good about that all the time. Maybe the brewers that were concerned just don’t understand that variability has always been a part of hop harvest. Weather changes are part of agriculture.  

The current growing regions are where they are because they offer the optimal day length required by the hop plant to efficiently produce a maximum yield and because a strong infrastructure has built up over the past century. I don’t think anybody who is seriously invested in the hop industry has any interest in moving to another region based on the perception that it may be more climate change resistant in the future. The idea of ensuring the future stability of an industry that does not have a problem supplying a market and which, more often than not, is in surplus is not one of the things about which I’d be overly concerned. If larger brewers are concerned about preserving the stable supply of hops in the future, they should not be so aggressive when it comes to negotiating for lower prices. Paying a higher price facilitates innovation that allows farmers to improve the technologies they use to produce hops so they can adapt to a changing environment. At the end of the day, that would be a better strategy in my opinion.

Thanks for the letter,

Doug