RMI Analytics Hop Tour – 2017 Yakima Valley
From September 4th to 6th RMI Analytics conducted a crop tour of hop production facilities in the USA’s largest production region, the Yakima Valley in Washington State.
During the tour temperatures were warm but not to excess (25-28C), mainly due to blanket smoke cover from wildfires across Washington, Oregon, Montana and California. By the start of the tour the harvest was unusually well advanced with the first day of the tour, US Labor Day (the first Monday in September), seeing harvest easily 10 days to two weeks ahead of usual.
The outlook from farmers and merchants was for a good harvest mainly due to the acreage expansion with yields looking around the average. Discussions with merchants and brewers revealed there is a lot of shuffling of hop contracts occurring at the moment, with many brewers still brewing with their hops from 2015 and some using their contracted hops from the 2014 crop. But merchants are showing flexibility, moving contracts out into 2020 (or further) to accommodate brewers. On the other side some farmers were seen to have considerable spot availability of hops, which is certainly going to play into a price decline on the spot market for hops in coming months.
To kick off the first day of the tour the group met with Yakima Chief-Hop Union (YCH Hops), a cooperative made up of 11 hop farmers in the region. YCH Hops brought the tour to co-op member Perrault Farms in the town of Moxee, about 12km from Yakima, where the group toured hop fields and the picking facility. At the farm harvest was in full swing with their unique Perrault Picker slicing hop bines into sections which were then passed through the picking facility, as opposed to traditional hanging harvest where hop bines are hung vertically stripped of their cones. On the farm they grow varieties Ahtanum™, Citra®, Ekuanot™, Mosaic®, Palisade®, Simcoe®, from the YCH Hops owned Select Botanicals Group (SBG) and the Hop Breeding Company (a collaboration between SBG and the Barth-Haas Group). The group’s tour of the farm was conducted by Jason Perrault, CEO and chief breeder of SBG, with many plots of trial hops inspected and some sampling of beers brewed with hops currently undergoing brewing trials.
In the afternoon of the first day the group visited a smaller family farm, Loza Farms, near the town of Wapato about 30km from Yakima. The farm is owned and operated by the Loza Family, a Mexican-American family who immigrated to the USA in the 1980s and who worked on the farm before buying it from the previous owner in the early 2000s.
On the second day of the RMI Analytics USA Hop Tour the group visited the Barth-Haas Group in the city of Yakima, touring storage, pelleting facilities and the CO2 extract facility for processing pelletized hops into raw alpha acid. The Barth-Haas Group is a conglomeration of German hop producer and merchant the Joh. Barth & Sohn GmbH & Co. KG and USA based John I. Haas Inc. The group works in hop production, processing, research and marketing in the Pacific North-West of the USA and in Southern Germany. From here the group headed to Yakima Golding Farms in Toppenish, 33km from Yakima, where harvest was well underway and the group had the chance to inspect a vast selection of hop trial plots.
On the third day of the tour the group met with merchants Hollingbery & Son Hops at their sprawling headquarters next to downtown Yakima. During a tour of the facility with youngest son Matt the group heard the how the business began during the Second World War when ‘Babe’ Hollingbery moved to the Yakima Valley and got into hop sales. Over the last 75 years the family has become a major player in the hop business as well as farming apples, pears, peaches and nectarines. Their headquarters is comprised of three city blocks of cold storage warehousing which can hold up to 12m lbs of hops, a T-90 pellet mill, and laboratory for technical hop analysis and offices.
From here the tour visited Cornerstone Ranches in Toppenish, a hop and fruit farm owned and operated by Graham Gamache. On the 1100acre (445Ha) farm they grow Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra®, Galena, Zeus, Mosaic®, Simcoe®, and El Dorado® hops. A focal point of the farm is the 1950s wooden picking machine, which is one of the few original hop picking machine still operating in the Yakima Valley. During the tour a large crop of Simcoe® hops were being harvested with yields and quality looking excellent.
From here the tour visited Virgil Gamache Farms, owned by a cousin of Graham, a short distance away also in Toppenish. Virgil Gamache Farms are the owners of the variety Amarillo®, which is grown widely on their farm (and in Idaho and Oregon) with European production of the variety currently being trialed in Germany. The group was led around the farm by Darren Gamache, Strategic Planner and Grower Liaison for VGF, with their extensive picking facility and storage area very impressive for the participants.
In the afternoon of the third day of the tour they group visited Yakima Valley Hops, a local hop merchant which, as well as supplying the commercial brewing market, also supplies home brewers. Their ‘Hop Shop’ in the historic fruit warehouse row of Yakima contains hop packaging and storage, a home brew store and a large event space with plans to expand considerably in coming years.
From here the tour ended with a dinner at the 1100acre (445Ha) CLS Farms in Moxee, where the hop variety El Dorado® was bred. Owner of CLS Farms, Eric Desmarais, is a fourth generation farmer whose family moved from Canada to Minnesota then to Yakima in the search for the perfect hop growing area. The farm’s signature hop, El Dorado®, was bred from a wild hop found in Colorado and is named after the mythical city of Él Dorado, or the lost city of gold.
The group was very impressed with the range of facilities viewed during the tour, from small to large scale operations, advanced research projects, family operations and historic farms.
This is the first RMI Analytics USA Hop Tour and we would like to offer our sincere thanks to our sponsors Barth-Haas Group, CLS Farms, Cornerstone Ranches, Hollingbery & Son Hops, Yakima Chief-Hop Union and Yakima Valley Hops.
Thanks as well go to local farmers who opened their doors to the tour group and shared their passion for hop farming.
Finally, it’s important to thank the participants, who make this unique malting barley industry networking opportunity such a success.
The final RMI Analytics crop tour for 2017 will be held in Victoria, Australia October 22-25.
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