Brewers Association, USDA team up to breed disease-resistant hops

Brewers Association and the USDA are embarking on a public hops breeding program that aims to develop disease-resistant strains of hops to benefit hop growers in the U.S. // Photo via Mighty Axe Hops' Facebook page

Brewers Association and the USDA are embarking on a public hops breeding program that aims to develop disease-resistant strains of hops to benefit hop growers in the U.S. // Photo via Mighty Axe Hops’ Facebook page

Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade group,  has reached a deal with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) to fund a public hop breeding program. The trust agreement would develop disease-resistant hop strains to be released into the public domain, greatly opening up access for growers, buyers, and brewers who were previously working with scattered privately-funded research.

“Research to develop and release hop cultivars with no intellectual property protection ensures that all growers have access to high quality, disease-resistant cultivars they need to sustain production at levels required by brewers,” says Chris Swersey, supply chain specialist for the Brewers Association.

The craft brewing industry has seen massive growth over recent years. Currently the industry supports 360,000 jobs nationwide and is valued at $33 billion. With this rapid growth has come a need to adjust the traditional business model. “Just as the brewing industry has changed from a small number of large producers to large number of small producers, the need to change the funding model for breeding has changed as well,” says BA technical brewing projects manager Chuck Skypeck.

The skyrocketing demand for high-quality hops has coincided with sweeping crop loss due to pests and disease, without any broad resistance innovation. This program is the first step to producing high-demand disease-resistant hops, which will stabilize and support the industry as it continues to grow.

“A vibrant and steady public breeding program will jointly benefit growers, hop merchants, brewers and beer drinkers alike,” says John Mallett, director of operations of Bell’s Brewery and chair of the Brewers Association technical committee. With the official agreement, the USDA will move forward in hiring a professional breeder and securing an operating facility.

Says Fred Geschwill, president of the Hop Research Council: “Having been involved in the public breeding effort for the last decade, I can honestly say this is the most exciting development the program has ever seen.”