By Gail Oberst
For the last 11 years, David Losh has compiled hop crop statistics for the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the United State Department of Agriculture. Sound boring? Not to us beer geeks.
Never mind his job. Losh has been a home brewer for most of his legal life. When he took a job at the USDA in the Northwest in 1985, Losh had already been home brewing for several years. You do the math – or let him.
Born in Ohio and nursed on “bad beer,” in college Losh began brewing beer in his parents’ basement. The first brew kit he ordered was from Portland’s F.H. Steinbart. It was essentially malt extract, a packet of yeast and hops powder or pellets. It was boiled on the kitchen stove and fermented in a plastic bucket, and about half of it was drinkable. “Old basement beer, they called it,” Losh said.
He graduated (in Ag Economics) and moved to Washington state to begin his life as a fed, all the while perfecting his home brewing techniques. He’s a member of the American Home Brewers Association and brews all styles, although he says his favorites are IPA, Brown and Pilsner.
Today, he lives in Portland and in January, spoke to the American Hop Growers Association at their annual convention.
What’s the latest trend in hop cultivation? You, Oregon craft beer drinker, are driving hop growers to increase their production of aroma hops, as opposed to hops grown for bittering or alpha. In 2009, 34% of U.S. hops were grown for aroma. In 2013, 56% were grown for aroma. This bodes well for Oregon, where its soil and climate produce Nugget, Willamette and Cascade hops with unique aroma profiles. Demand for Oregon hops is on the rise, Losh said. Oregon growers are already focused on aroma hops – Willamette and Nugget accounting for at least half of all production last year, Losh said. Cascade, Centennial, Mt. Hood and Sterling are among other aroma hops grown in Oregon.
Losh, as the national hop statistician and a beer-lover, is the perfect person to pass on reliable Oregon hop trivia, listed below.
Hop production increased in the U.S. by 13 percent in 2013, to 69.3 million pounds.
Oregon growers produced 12% of U.S. hops in 2012. Top producer is Washington, which produces 79%. Idaho produces the rest.
2013 – Oregon hop farmers generated $31.5 million from 8.5 million pounds grown on 4,786 acres.
1935 – Oregon hop farmers generated $2.3 million from 25.8 million pounds grown on 26,000 acres, the highest acreage ever. (Gail’s note: 1935 dollars were valued at about $17 of today’s dollars. That means our farmers are getting approximately the same value from about 1/5th of the acreage. Incredible!)
1961 – Oregon hop farmers produced about $2 million from 4.3 million pounds grown on 3,000 acres, the lowest acreage ever.
If all of Oregon’s 2013 hop cones (approximately 1 inch each) were strung end to end, they would reach a quarter of the way around the world, or from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, and back to Chicago.
There are about 40 dried hop cones in an ounce and 640 per pound
A bale of hops is approximately 200 pounds. A bale would have 128,000 cones.
In recent years, Oregon hops fetched higher average prices than Washington’s by 50 to 80 cents per pound until 2013, when they averaged the same, $3.68.
Of the U.S. hops exported to other countries, Mexico, U.K. and Germany were the biggest customers.
The U.S. produced about a 39% of the world’s hops in the 2012-13 growing season, the highest percentage of the past 10 years. Germany, the next-largest producer, grew 34% of the world’s hops (P.S. Germany is about the size of Oregon, Washington and Idaho, together).
U.S. brewers last year imported 8.7 million pounds of hops, mostly from Germany and the U.K.
More beer and hop statistics presented to the Hop Growers of America in January are at www.usahops.org and at www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Oregon/index.asp
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.