Brock Obendorf

Hops hang on vines before harvest at Brock Obendorf’s farm.

WILDER — Idaho is closing in on Oregon for hop acreage, but remains in the No. 3 spot for 2017.

Idaho is the third-largest hop producer in the U.S., with more than 7,000 acres strung for harvest in 2017, according to a report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The acres strung for harvest in Idaho increased by 27 percent in 2017 over the previous year. Hop acreage grew by about 1,500 acres in Idaho in 2017.

Oregon meanwhile is the second-largest hop producer with more than 8,000 acres strung for harvest in 2017. Oregon bested Idaho’s total acreage by more than 2,100 acres in 2016, but Idaho narrowed Oregon’s lead to 876 acres this year.

Both states are still far behind Washington, the nation’s top hop producer, which has more than 54,000 acres strung for harvest this year.

Brock Obendorf, chairman of the Idaho Hop Commission, said Idaho’s increase comes from a few new farmers who have entered the market. The growth has been driven by the needs of the hop market, but Obendorf said that need has now been fulfilled and there are too many hops in Idaho, so that growth won’t be sustained.

Hops are used to make beer, and the popularity of craft beer has led to a demand in hops in recent years.

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“It would be good if Idaho could get the No. 2 spot,” Obendorf said. “It would be a pretty big deal.”

Along with increased acreage of hops, local growers have also built expanded processing facilities. A new hop pelletizing mill, Mill 95, is under construction outside Wilder. The facility is the first of its kind in Idaho.

At a groundbreaking for the facility in November, co-founder Dean McKay said he hopes the facility will help elevate Idaho’s hop profile.

“The hop-growing community (in Idaho) is small, but we carry a lot of impact of a lot of people and brewers around the region and around the world,” McKay said at the time. “Our new hop-processing facility will be able to put Idaho, we feel, on the map as a world-class hop-processing region and growing region.”

According to the USDA report, the top five hop varieties strung for 2017 harvest are Cascade, Centennial, Citra, Simcoe and Zeus. Of the hop varieties grown in Idaho, the highest acreage is in Zeus for 2017 with 1,031 acres followed by Cascade with 886 acres.

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