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Cheers to a Growing Craft Beer Industry

Nifa Author
Matt Browning, Public Affairs Specialist

Agriculture may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the craft beer industry, but perhaps it should be. The hop plant is a vital ingredient in every beer on the market, with U.S. hop yield increasing 130 pounds from 2020 to 2021. In fact, the 2021 value of U.S. hops production totaled $662 million, up seven percent from the previous year.

At USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), we realize the importance of this popular crop to our agricultural industry – from its economic boon for our nation’s farmers to its importance in creating higher-quality end results for consumers. That’s why we’ve been investing in research related to hops production – and the entire craft beer industry – for years.

Some recently funded projects include:

  • Auburn University is developing tools to sustainably accelerate hop breeding programs. Scientists and breeders are working to increase production by creating new varieties of hops that can grow in Alabama’s climate and environment.
  • The University of Arkansas is working with local breweries to test a newly developed carbonator for function, economics, operations and effect on beverage flavor to ultimately produce safe and high-quality beverages for consumers.
  • Cornell University is identifying the determinants leading to yeast contamination, among the leading causes of spoilage in the brewing industry. The project is working to reveal the genetic and environmental determinants for spoilage activity in brewing yeast strains and, with more information on genetic variations that control spoilage, develop better tools to predict spoilage potential.
  • Penn State University is working to produce a better tasting beer for consumers with celiac disease or other gluten intolerances. By using a modified, lower-temperature mashing procedure to retain enzyme activity, brewers can use malts from gluten-free grains to produce high-quality beers.
  • Washington State University is enhancing the supply chain stability, market access and global competitiveness of the Pacific Northwest hop industry, which grows 99% and 39% of the hops produced in the U.S. and world, respectively. Researchers are identifying genetic factors that make certain hop cultivars less susceptible to production stressors, mitigating short- and medium-term threats to market access, and conducting lifecycle assessment and sustainability indexing.

While these examples illustrate our research investment, NIFA’s support of the industry extends beyond the field and the lab.  See the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development to view the  St. Patrick’s Day discussion of the economic impact of craft beer and the role of Extension.

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