With the start of Oktoberfest, people around the world will gather to celebrate the craft of brewing beer. While the tradition of Oktoberfest originated in Munich, Germany, today Central Washington plays a key role in this celebration. 78 percent of the hops -- which are a key ingredient in flavoring beers -- that were grown in the United States came from the Yakima Valley last year, and the United States falls behind only Germany in world hops production.
In a state that is known for companies like Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks, some find it surprising that our state's number one industry is actually agriculture. Central Washington's fertile soil, abundance of sunshine and irrigation provides for one of the most productive and diverse growing regions in the world.
Local farmers and brewers discovered more than 100 years ago that the Yakima Valley is a prime location for growing hops. Much like the American Viticultural Areas that define specific growing conditions that lend unique flavors to wine grapes, there are three unique growing regions within the Yakima Valley that brewers seek -- the Moxee Valley, the Yakama Indian Reservation, and the Lower Yakima Valley. While all within a 50 mile area, each region has certain attributes that makes it desirable for brewers.
Approximately two-thirds of the hops grown in Central Washington are exported to other countries. Therefore, our thriving hops industry relies on fair access to overseas markets. While long overdue, I am pleased that the fair trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea have finally been implemented. These agreements will give local hop growers access to more buyers and ensure long-term economic growth in our local communities.
The hops that stay within the United States also provide economic benefits in Central Washington and beyond. Our Yakima Valley hops have helped bolster the microbreweries that are growing both locally and nationwide. Many are small, family-owned businesses that are the backbone of local economies.
Like all farmers and ranchers, Central Washington hops growers have faced many challenges over the years. However, through their hard work and dedication to producing a quality product, they have kept Central Washington on the map as a leader in hops production.