The fi­nal straw

Grow­ers fac­ing a loom­ing hop-poca­lypse in B.C.

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS - RANDY SHORE POST­MEDIA

Hop farmer Dwayne Ste­wart is leav­ing one third of his Ab­bots­ford farm fal­low this year, and many oth­ers are ex­it­ing the busi­ness al­to­gether.

“I’ve got prod­uct in the fridge from 2016 that I haven’t sold yet,” he said.

“I know a dozen farm­ers who won’t grow any hops this year, so we are down to just about 20 grow­ers.”

De­spite the ex­plo­sive growth of B.C.’s $280-mil­lion craft beer in­dus­try , hop famers have been left be­hind be­cause brew­ers have lit­tle in­cen­tive to buy lo­cally, he said.

With­out help hop farm­ing could all but dis­ap­pear in B.C., he said.

A tax re­bate to brew­ers who use lo­cally grown hops would go a long way to­ward sta­bi­liz­ing and grow­ing the hops in­dus­try, said Ste­wart, owner of B.C. Hop Com­pany.

“That would go a long way to­ward giv­ing us the kind of sup­port that is shown to the wine in­dus­try, and to craft brew­ers, too,” he said.

New grow­ers usu­ally start small be­cause erect­ing poles and trel­lises for vines and plant­ing rhi­zomes costs up to $25,000 an acre and it takes three years be­fore you can har­vest, said Ste­wart.

Hop farms in Washington, Ore­gon and Idaho are of­ten 10 to 20 times the size of farms in B.C., mak­ing it hard for lo­cal farm­ers to com­pete on price.

“A lot of yards started and failed within three years as peo­ple fig­ured out the steep learn­ing curve, high cost of cap­i­tal and slow re­turn,” said Re­becca MacIsaac of farm-based Crannog Ales in the Shuswap re­gion, which grows its own hops.

“Only a few brew­ers are in­ter­ested in lo­cal hops year­round, most are only in­ter­ested in mak­ing a splash with one sea­sonal beer then sourc­ing else­where for their main — cheaper — sup­ply,” she said. Chang­ing tastes have left grow­ers chasing the right va­ri­ety of hops, or look­ing for va­ri­eties that will thrive and cre­at­ing a mar­ket for them.

“Grow­ers need brew­ers who will work with them on va­ri­eties as they fig­ure out what grows best on their farms,” she said.

“They need brew­ers who will ex­per­i­ment with new or very old va­ri­eties, they need brew­ers who are will­ing to wait it out while they im­prove qual­ity.”

Lo­cal farm­ers are not al­lowed to grow many of the pop­u­lar cit­rusy and fruity va­ri­eties that brew­ers are look­ing for be­cause they are trade­marked and sold un­der li­cence, ac­cord­ing to the B.C. Craft Brew­ers Guild.

“The other bar­rier is price,” said Gary Lo­hin, brew­mas­ter at Sur­rey’s Cen­tral City Brew­ers + Dis­tillers.

“If the gov­ern­ment were to grant an agri­cul­tural tax break for us­ing lo­cal hops, you’d prob­a­bly see more brew­ers look­ing at lo­cal hops.”

Adding to the mis­ery, Septem­ber’s planned B.C. Hop Fest has been can­celled after Ste­wart strug­gled to meet the reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing agri-tourism events on land in the Agri­cul­tural Land Re­serve.

The an­nual fes­ti­val at­tracts 1,500 peo­ple thirsty for one-of-akind fresh beers and the event is the hop grow­ers’ best op­por­tu­nity to show­case their prod­uct.

“The ma­jor­ity of the prod­ucts for sale — beer — were not pro­duced on the farm,” said Ste­wart. “The (Agri­cul­tural Land Com­mis­sion) couldn’t quite get their heads around the idea of pro­mot­ing hops by sell­ing beers that con­tain hops.”

ARLEN REDEKOP/PNG

Grow­ing hops has be­com­ing chal­leng­ing for many B.C. farm­ers. Pictured is a farm in Ab­bots­ford.

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