British Columbia's craft beer industry is on the "hop" these days.
Hops are a key ingredient in crafting a great brew. Beer is comprised of four ingredients: malt, yeast, water, hops. The first three are generally easy to come by.
In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, British Columbia was a major producer of hops but a growing international supply resulted in fewer hop farms operating in the province. A number of large international breweries controlled hop farming and the price of hops for decades.
With the craft beer industry growing rapidly – going from 54 breweries in 2010 to 125 breweries and counting today – and brewers preferring to source their ingredients locally, B.C.’s hop farms are expanding quickly and shipping worldwide.
In 2011, John Lawrence planned to plant four to eight hectares (10 to 20 acres) of hops on his Chilliwack farm to keep him busy during retirement. Today, Chilliwack Hop Farms has expanded to over 81 hectares (200 acres). Chilliwack Hop Farms employs 16 people permanently, and another 20 seasonally.
The farm controls the product from beginning to end, investing in greenhouses to start the hop plants from rhizomes, through to harvesting, drying, packing and shipping. Hops can grow up to six metres (20 feet) annually, requiring considerable infrastructure – up to 24 poles per hectare (60 poles per acre) – to ensure they climb vertically and produce hops.
“The craft brewing industry in B.C. is exploding and the demand for hops is growing every day,” said Lawrence. “Our farm and hop farming in B.C. has grown exponentially the past few years and is continuing to expand. We now supply our hops to over 150 craft breweries across Canada and ship all over the world including the United States, Mexico, Central America, Europe, Russia and China.”
In fact, there was little change in the price hop farmers could get for their product until relatively recently. In 1936, hops cost brewers $1.98 per pound, increasing to only $2.98 per pound in 1996. Today, farmers are charging $15 to $20 per pound for hops, making the crop a much more appealing product now than in the past.
“We also identified that starting a hop farm requires a significant investment in infrastructure for new small businesses which can be a challenge,” said Lawrence. “Our farm has already invested in the equipment needed to get the hops to market, so we offer smaller operators help harvesting, drying and pelleting their hops. Innovating in this way has also helped us expand.”
“Hop farmers and craft brewers are both small businesses experiencing significant growth in British Columbia,” said Chilliwack MLA John Martin. “Our robust economy and efforts to reduce red tape, as well as investment in the craft beer and agriculture industries, are helping these small businesses expand, create jobs and make their marks nationally and internationally.”
An abundance of hops cultivated in B.C. will help this province continue to grow its reputation as the Craft Beer Capital of Canada and ensure that hop farms, craft brewers and other small businesses can prosper. October is Small Business Month and Craft Beer Month in B.C.
- Hops are one of 200 agriculture and agrifood commodities produced by B.C. farmers.
- Small businesses, including farms, employ more than one million British Columbians, and account for 55% of private-sector employment in the province.
- AgriService BC connects farmers and agri-businesses with the people and information they need to help their businesses succeed and grow. Contact them in person, through 1 888 221-7141 and AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca for more information.
- In May 2016, the Province reduced the mark-up rate on craft beer by 25% – creating $10 million in economic support so that brewers can hire new staff, invest in new equipment, and grow their businesses.