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Higher Yields, Lower Emissions: Solutions to Climate Issues in the Hop Industry

Updated: May 2, 2023

How CLS Farms is Taking Steps to Reduce Emissions and Increase Efficiency in the Face of a Changing Environment

yqh-1320 hop variety
Photo by Claire Desmarais

As an agricultural product, hop growers are at the mercy of their environment. We’ve experienced several once-in-a-hundred-year weather events significantly affecting the quality and quantity of hops. Climate change has the potential to pose an existential threat to the industry.


In 2020, forest fires plagued the Pacific Northwest, resulting in smokey aromas in some hops. Extreme heat in the summer of 2021 reached nearly 115ºF in various hop-growing regions, affecting yields for several varieties. A cold snap with the wettest spring on record dampened the PNW in 2022, likely a contributing factor to the 12% decrease in overall production for the U.S.


Yakima Valley hop growers face environmental challenges, but they are better equipped to handle them compared to other regions. According to Cliff Mass, a weather expert from the University of Washington, the forecasts for Washington indicate a decrease in snowfall and an increase in rainfall. Although this may lead to smaller snowpacks, the growers can use additional reservoirs to collect the expected rainfall and adapt to the changes in precipitation.


When water becomes scarce, it flows to the highest-value crops such as hops and apples in the Yakima Valley. Growers can also buy water from other lower-value crop owners for usage. So, despite lower snowfall expectations, greater rainfall likely will make up for the gap.


We learned in 2021 during the heat wave that hops are much more resistant to the effects of higher temperatures than anticipated. Despite the 115ºF, we saw a record year in terms of overall production increasing 11% from 2020 to 2021. However, some varieties are more susceptible to high temperatures like Citra®. Last year, what many would consider a mild summer ended with hop production down nearly 15% to 20% in some areas.


So, while these threats remain an issue for hop growers, the Yakima Valley is positioned well. But growers are still looking for ways to lessen their own effects and improve functions on the farm.


There are four main areas in which CLS Farms, for both the short and long term, has worked to reduce its carbon intensity related to growing and harvesting hops coinciding with efficiency gains.

  • High-Yielding Hops

  • Kiln Efficiency

  • Soil Health

  • Integrated Pest Management

Higher Yields

Harvesting a consistently higher-than-average yield per acre provides the most immediate results in real, on-the-ground carbon reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions. Higher-yielding varieties require fewer resources per pound while lowering the demand for production land.

  • Low: Under 1,800 lbs/acre

  • Mid: 1,800 to 2,400 lbs/acre

  • High: Over 2,400 lbs/acre*

*This is variety dependent, especially in regard to aroma versus alpha-grown varieties.


Stan Hieronymous’ article in Craft Beer and Brewing discusses the idea that choosing higher-yielding varieties results in a lower impact. Growers can choose to invest in varieties like El Dorado®, Idaho 7®, Mosaic®, Sabro®, and Strata®. But growers can’t all just plant the highest-yielding varieties and leave out in-demand varieties like Citra®, Cascade, and Centennial.


Working to achieve high yields across all varieties remains a crucial component. A combination of our fertility, integrated pest management program, twining, and training dates, along with several other factors contribute to our efforts for achieving those higher yields.

CLS Farms typically yields 10% to 15% higher than state averages for most varieties.

yqh-1320 variety
Photo by Miguel Rivas

We have also worked with Hopsteiner to grow four of its proprietary varieties, Calypso, Sultana, Lotus, and Altus. A study conducted by Hopsteiner researchers showed that the top ten varieties with the lowest CO2 emissions per pound came from the Hopsteiner breeding program.

Going forward, CLS Farms is committing to bringing to market high-yielding varieties like YQH-1320, with potential yields reaching roughly 2,400 lbs/acre. In 2022, YQH-1320 was one of the highest-yielding varieties on our farm as a baby planting.


Kiln Efficiency


The kiln is the largest contributor to Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the hop harvesting process, according to several Life Cycle Analysis reports. The process is unique to the hop industry in that other agricultural products don’t typically have this step.

CLS Farms uses 100% propane to power all trucks and kilns. Propane has a lower carbon content than conventional gasoline and diesel fuel, resulting in a 13% decrease in GHG when used.


We’ve also engineered our kiln floors to accommodate the increased airflow coming from the installation of higher horse-powered fans. This allows greater air velocity, resulting in a more efficient dry and lower propane usage.


Our partner farm, Wenas Hop Company, utilizes a German propane-powered Wolf Drying System which uses recycled air to dry hops. The vertical structure of the Wolf system and its 200 sensors monitor the air as soon as the hops are added. Overall, we’ve decreased propane usage by roughly 18%.


This year, we are implementing a new recirculation process in our American kilns that mimic the Wolf Drying system to achieve similar results.

cls farms hop kilns
Photo by Claire Desmarais

Soil


In the last two years, we have utilized soil health initiatives in our 100-year-old Moxee fields through the usage of cover crops and additions of various carbons to the soil. This makes more nutrients available, resulting in fewer needs for inputs of synthetic fertilizers throughout the growing season.

A mixture of cover crops such as wheat, oats, and peas adds organic matter to the soil, suppresses weeds and mites, improves soil texture, and balances the carbon and nitrogen ratio. Recycled drip tube lines irrigate each row and ensure the cover crop stays healthy throughout the growing season.

We’ve also experimented with composting what growers call “hop trash.” The leftover bines, leaves, twine, and other organic matter combines into a heaping pile that is normally carted away to dry out for months and spread back into the fields after it’s suffocated from oxygen.


Instead, the crew now mixes the piles to provide continuous oxygen to the organisms living in the organic matter. We add a microbial-supporting food source for the organisms, check temperatures and moisture levels, and allow it to break down into what looks like normal soil.


This brings nutrients back into the hop fields, requires us to purchase less synthetic fertilizers long term, and provides a solution to an otherwise pain point of harvest.


Integrated Pest Management


Healthy soils coupled with our Integrated Pest Management program create a stronger plant that can better fight off disease and pest pressures. Intensive field scouting allows us to better understand natural predator populations along with mite counts, which is the primary pest that affects hops.


Our mix of “crop protection chemistries” enhances the number of natural predators while targeting pests. We’ve decreased our miticide usage from three applications per year to one application while reducing overall sprays by 65%. This means we also have fewer tractors going through the fields, saving on fuel.


Overall, growers in the Yakima Valley will continue to face environmental challenges. With a focus on high-yielding and disease-resistant varieties, kiln modifications, soil health, and integrated pest management, CLS Farms has managed these effects while contributing to fewer carbon emissions over the last few years.


Contact Claire Desmarais at claire@clsfarms.com for questions. Claire is the sales and marketing manager for CLS Farms.


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