- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

MOXEE, Wash. (AP) - Demand from craft beer brewers led to an 11 percent increase in U.S. hop production in 2015 compared to the previous year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service says production totaled 78.8 million pounds.

Washington state produced 59.4 million pounds, followed by Oregon with 10.6 million pounds and Idaho with 8.7 million pounds.

Those three states produce about a third of the world supply. Oil from hop cones is used in beer for flavoring and stabilizing.

Production and acreage increased in all three states despite extreme heat early in the season and a low winter snowpack that influences irrigation.

“Considering those challenges and the amount of first-year plants in the ground which have smaller yield, we are pleased with the final count and looking forward to next year,” Ann George, executive director of Hop Growers of America and the Washington Hop Commission, told the Capital Press (http://bit.ly/1PgCCcs) in a story on Friday.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service said the preliminary value of the crop is $345.4 million, up 33 percent from the 2014 crop.

The report said growers received record prices because production shifted to higher-value aroma varieties in response to increased demand from craft breweries.

Demand for those aroma varieties has driven demand “to a level that has challenged the industry to continue to expand production at an equivalent rate,” George said.

Washington state had the highest number of acres harvested going back to 1915. Idaho had its highest production and acres harvested since 1944.

George said hop acreage in the Pacific Northwest has increased 48 percent in the last three years.

Meanwhile, George said, European producers had one of their toughest years in more than a decade due to drought, with production dropping 24 percent compared to last year.

She said production in Germany, which produces a third of the world crop, is down 26 percent.

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