Organic beer lovers: did you know your organic beer is probably not made with organic hops? That will change as of January 2013, when new legislation filed with the USDA will require any beer using the USDA Organic Logo must use 100 percent organic hops.
“Any remaining product ingredients must consist of non-agricultural substances approved on the National List, including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website.
The American Organic Hop Growers Association (AOHGA) filed a petition in 2009 requesting organic hops be used for organic beer. Most organic hops were imported from New Zealand and Europe, further adding to the cost and complexity of using organic hops.
“Five, six, seven years ago, there were no organic hop production in the United States…but when growers added organic acreage, it was the AOHGA’s position that there was not enough movement for using organic hops,” says Patrick Leavy, President of AOHGA and head grower at The Oregon Hophouse.
An organic-labelled product must by law contain 95% organic materials, and hops was often left out of the equation for a number of reasons. First, it is harder to grow organically due to such diseases as downy mildew and they have their fair share of pests too. Traditional chemicals cannot be used for organically grown products. In addition, hops is typically purchased on a contract basis: the beer producer orders ahead of the time the amount of hops required for their production. 100 per cent organically grown hops were much more expensive, which would be more costly for both the brewery and ultimately, the consumer, so organic hops were not contracted.
According to an article in Triplepundit.com, "Patrick Smith of Loftus Ranch (Yakima, Washington) and other farmers are working diligently to close the gap for organic crop yields. Smith explained as the collective knowledge of organic hop production grows, he expects to see yields 75-80+ percent of conventional. As the soil fertility improves, crop yields improve without relying on conventional agriculture’s chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides."
Triplepundit.com stated organic hops will give brewers a larger variety of hops options to choose from, allowing for the making of a larger variety of organic craft brews. The article also stated, "As recently as 2010, only 100 acres of the 30,500 acres of hops in Washington’s Yakima Valley utilized organic methods of harvesting, a valley that accounts for nearly 30 percent of the world’s hops production. Today, there are at least 180 acres of organic hops grown in the Yakima Valley and hundreds more coming on line elsewhere..."