Pacific Northwest Hop Fields Sustain Storm Damage, Because It’s 2020

Labor Day windstorms damage up to 5 percent of Yakima Chief’s remaining crop in Washington and Idaho, with the response complicated by wildfires and apple harvest.

Joe Stange Sep 9, 2020 - 4 min read

Pacific Northwest Hop Fields Sustain Storm Damage, Because It’s 2020 Primary Image

Photo: Courtesy Yakima Chief Hops

In a year of pandemics, civil unrest, economic downturn, and rampant wildfires, nothing should really shock us anymore. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that windstorms in the Pacific Northwest have dealt a blow to the latter portion of this year’s hop harvest.

Yakima Chief Hops—the grower-owned network of farms that is the country’s largest hop company—reports that Labor Day windstorms damaged anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of the remaining, yet-to-be-harvested hop supply in Idaho and Washington.

Alex Rumbolz, a spokesman for Yakima Chief, tells the Brewing Industry Guide that the damage is limited to late-harvest varieties such as CTZ. “Luckily,” he says, “popular hops like Simcoe, Cascade, and Centennial were already harvested prior to the storm.”

A photo on Yakima Chief’s social media page also depicted a Citra yard where bines had been stripped of sidearms. However, the company says it will not be publicly going into more detail about the affected varieties, to avoid “unnecessary panic,” according to spokeswoman Cait Schut.

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“Many times, we work with our growers to create buffers in our volume, so that we are able to meet contracted needs at the very least,” Schut says. “Any shortages are handled on a case-by-case [basis] with brewing customers, and any issues are pretty well mitigated by proper sales planning and adjustments.”

“Luckily our growers and field workers are beyond resilient, handling floods, extreme weather conditions, and fire season almost every year,” Schut says. “We will all get through this together.”

“The widespread damage is visual on the north and east sides of hop fields across the [Yakima] Valley, in the form of fallen vines or vines stripped of sidearms,” the company says in an announcement shared on social media. “There are also vines down inside of the yards, which can be salvaged if labor is available. Many cones on the hop-yard floors will not be recovered.”

If that labor is available—no sure thing—it will mean additional costs for growers. “With apple harvest in full swing,” Yakima Chief says, “many of the farms are reporting a ‘tightening’ of the labor supply. Some will not be able to find people to put vines up while keeping the hop and apple harvests fully manned.”

In its Harvest Update, the company says that the winds created “nearly impossible harvest conditions,” further complicated by nearby wildfires. “Smoke from fires to the north and blowing dust created low visibility, and many farms have shut down harvest operations temporarily.”

“There are widespread reports of hop vines down in hop yards up and down the Yakima Valley,” the company says. “Most of the vines can be salvaged because they are very close to maturity. ... There are expectations for a slightly below average crop size to be further diminished by the wind damage.”

More details may be available by the morning of September 14, when Yakima Chief and some of its grower-owners will broadcast a harvest update via its Hop & Brew School website. They will discuss the 2020 harvest so far, with the more formal Harvest Report expected later in the month.

“Sending our sincerest appreciation to the growers and field workers working diligently to recover the crop, as well as the first responders working to combat the fires,” the company says.

Joe Stange is Managing Editor of Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® and the Brewing Industry Guide®. Have story tips or suggestions? Contact him at [email protected].

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