Dear Secretary Vilsack and Under Secretary Woteki:
We write to request your support for an industry that has been a model of U.S. economic growth over the past decade. The brewing industry sustains millions of jobs in the U.S., and especially through the emerging popularity of craft brewing, has boosted domestic sales and exports, and supports a growing supply chain of U.S. farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, and retailers. U.S. hop cultivation is central to this industry, and we request USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) increase its commitment to hop-related research to reflect the growing cultural and economic importance of this crop for FY 2017.
Overall, the brewing industry generated more than $250 billion in economic activity in 2014, directly and indirectly employing over 1.75 million Americans. This activity is only sustained through a healthy, stable hop market. Hop growers face a variety of challenges, including mites, mildews, blights, and other pests that harm production. It is estimated that 15 percent of hop yields are lost to pests annually. The increased threat of drought and extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest, where the majority of U.S. commercially-produced hops are grown, is also a persistent threat to crops. The development of new hop varieties that are pest-resistant and climate-tolerant would help growers increase yields while reducing pesticide use. Additionally, while commercial hop production now exists in 29 states, developing new climate-tolerant varieties could help further expand commercial production, putting growers closer to their customers and reducing the threat that a disaster in the Pacific Northwest would affect U.S. and global supplies.
USDA's previous hop research has resulted in the development of varieties that are now universal to the industry. The two largest varieties of U.S.-produced hops, Cascade and Centennial, are products of public hop breeding programs. As consumers continue to demand beers with new aroma and flavor traits, research into developing these characteristics could result in significant benefit to growers, brewers, and the customers they serve.
Given these great advantages that would come with additional research, we request that USDA-ARS increase the commitment to hops genetics/molecular biology from 0.7 full time employees (FTE) to 1.0 FTE, while continuing to fund the existing 1.0 FTE pathology research program for FY 2017. This critical boost in research would result in breakthroughs in hop cultivation that will help sustain the significant growth of this important industry.