Saturday is National Beer Day: a day to celebrate the suds we love. However, climate change threatens to flatten the production of hops, meaning less pop in your top.

To some craft breweries, the impacts are believed to be so severe that in 2015, a number of leading craft breweries signed a “climate declaration” that states, in part:

“Warmer temperatures and extreme weather events are harming the production of hops, a critical ingredient of beer that grows primarily in the Pacific Northwest. Rising demand and lower yields have driven the price of hops up by more than 250 percent over the past decade.”

That threat to the Pacific Northwest can be felt in South Jersey.

“We purchase our hops from the Yakima Valley region (in Washington),” said Donn Hoosack, co-owner and brewer of ManaFirkin Brewery in Manahawkin.

Craft breweries are a $1.64 billion business in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Craft Brewers Guild. The industry has 9,560 jobs in the state.

And hops are an integral part of most beers, giving them their flavor, whether it’s bitter, citrus or zesty. Without them, the world of beer as we know it would not exist.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 73 percent of the nation’s hops are grown in the state of Washington, with most of the remainder split between Oregon and Idaho.

In this area, increased drought is a main problem for the hop-farming community.

Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index

The Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index for the Western United States shows the severity of drought, by year. Droughts have become more severe in recent decades due to climate change. While the average amount of precipitation has not and should not, decrease, the amount of falling as rain, rather than snow, has and will increase. Therefore, snowpack is smaller and melts faster, causing rivers that depend on this source to dry up quicker. (Image courtesy of NOAA)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been keeping track of the severity of drought in the western United States since the late 1800s.

Since 2000, the number of years the hop-growing region has been in a “severe” or “extreme” drought has been seven. From 1900 to 1999 alone, it was three.

“The core of the climate story is water and snowpack,” said Heidi Roop, a research scientist at the University of Washington’s Climate Impact Group.

Take the Yakima Valley. The region is semi-arid, with less than 10 inches of precipitation per year. This means hops need to get their water from the snowpack of the towering Cascade Mountain range that links British Columbia to northern California.

Climate of Yakima

This is the climate of Yakima, Washington. In the Yakima Valley, this semi-arid region is where many hops are grown. 

Precipitation trends are not anticipated to change. However, rising temperatures means more of that is rain, not snow.

“We do not fill up the bathtub (of the Cascades Mountains) enough (with snow) to have the agricultural community use it in the growing season,” Roop said.

South Jersey brewers’ smaller size gives them the flexibility to create delicious, wild and sometimes wacky suds. However, they, like the mass brewers of the world, need to purchase hops to make their beers.

“Typically, once you have 10 or more barrels, you create a hop contract with growers,” Hoosack said.

Contracts for hops work well when there is enough product to be distributed. As the climate continues to change, though, crop yields may shrink. This would drive up the price of hops, straining businesses.

The United States is one of the largest growers of hops in the world. Roop said a beer you drink at home may have traveled from the Pacific Northwest to New Zealand, where it is bottled and packaged, shipped to port and then driven to your local liquor store or restaurant, all contributing to greenhouse-gas emissions.

In hops country, Roop said, some farmers are taking action.

“Good farmers are able to consider the future landscape before them. They use water conservation and build more efficient processes.”

They are helping the future stay hoppy and fizzy.

We can raise a glass to that.

Meteorologist

This is my first newspaper but not my first forecast for NJ. I graduated with a B.S. in Meteorology from Rutgers. Two TV internships gave me a taste for the newsroom. Then, after nearly 4 years in private NJ weather, I'm forecasting South Jersey for you.

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