Brewers Association aims to build sustainable, disease-resistant US hop supply

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Funding from the BA will create a supply of in-demand, disease-resistant hop varieties.   ©GettyImages/Yarygin
Funding from the BA will create a supply of in-demand, disease-resistant hop varieties. ©GettyImages/Yarygin
The Brewers Association (BA), through an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), will fund a public hop breeding program to develop and release disease-resistant aroma hop cultivars for the US hop and brewing industries.

“Research to develop and release hop cultivars with no intellectual property protection ensures that all growers have access to high quality, disease-resistant cultivars they need to sustain production at levels required by brewers,”​ Chris Swersey, supply chain specialist for the Brewers Association, said.  

“Even the smallest brewers will be able to source ingredients they need to produce that truly local pint.”

The trust agreement between the Brewers Association and USDA-ARS provides funding for a program located in Washington and Oregon to leverage significant existing academic and operational infrastructure.

Decline of disease-resistant hops

According to the BA, the US hop and brewing industries are valued at $33bn which has created strong demand for a broad range of hop varieties.

Hop aphids, Phorodon humuli, and Twospotted spider mites, Tetranychus urticae, have long been the two most prevalent arthropod pests of hops, according to USA Hops. 

At the same time, production of disease-resistant hops has declined resulting in crop damage totaling nearly 15% of total crop value, destabilization of critical supply chains, and lost export opportunities, the BA said.

Decreasing federal and state support of agricultural research in recent years have made programs, such as the USDA-ARS hop breeding program, more difficult to maintain, according to multiple US hop organizations.

Additionally, cuts to agricultural programs earlier this year by US President Donald Trump slashed funding to the entire USDA-ARS department by $240m, $31m of which was taken from crop protection research projects.

“Public sector development of new hop varieties that combine disease resistance and improved brewing quality are needed to sustain the expansion of crop production and meet the increased demand for high-quality hops,”​ Ryan Hayes, research leader of the Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit, said.

A new source of funding to the program will also help maintain the international competitiveness of the US hop industry, the Hop Research Council added. 

Combatting hop disease

With BA funding, the USDA-ARS public hop breeding program research will focus on four key efforts: sensory requirements as determined by the Brewers Association through a collaborative and participatory brewer and industry stakeholder program; improved downy mildew resistance; improved powdery mildew resistance; and improved agronomic performance compared to existing aroma cultivars.

“The BA’s funding of public hop breeding, structured through the USDA, will allow development of germplasm that serves all growing regions with viable disease resistant varieties. The Hop Research Council will now have a secure base that we can work with to add value to all segments of our members,”​ Fred Geschwill, president of the Hop Research Council, said.

“Having been involved in the public breeding effort for the last decade, I can honestly say this is the most exciting development the program has ever seen.”  

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