BC’s hop industry faces a bright future as the industry consolidates around growers with long-term plans, but plenty of challenges remain.
“We’re getting more interest and we’re also developing a number of export markets,” says Ray Bredenhof of Bredenhof Hop Farms in Abbotsford and chair of the BC Hop Growers Association. “I’m working on international hop deals where I’m going to need hops from more than just my farm.”
Bredenhof recently acquired another farm that will boost his operation to 21 acres this year. He also harvests 19 acres for other growers. This has put his business, which includes drying, pelletizing and distributing, at capacity.
But the success stands against a decline in the number of growers from more than 30 last year to about 20 today. Bredenhof expects a net decrease in acreage this year as a result.
Two key challenges are a lack of processing capacity, which meant some acreage couldn’t be harvested last year, and competition from other regions.
Consumers opt for local where possible, as the success of the annual BC Hop Fest indicates. It’s grown to more than 1,000 people, large enough that the Agricultural Land Commission says it can’t take place on farmland. This prompted its cancellation this year.
Yet hops are one local ingredient BC’s craft brewers have been slow to source. The oil content and aromatics are key variables among hop varieties, and Lower Mainland brewmasters tend to favour imported hops.
“They’ve been buying US or New Zealand hops for so long that they’re not changing the recipe to fit the BC hops in,” says Bredenhof.
BC hops can compete, however. Breweries across Canada and in the US buy Bredenhof’s hops, and the quality of the crop is improving as a cohort of commercial growers becomes established.
“The industry is straightening itself out,” says Bredenhof. “The growers that are left are more of the higher-quality, long-term committed growers.”