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Proprietary hops vex US brewers

April 22, 2015
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File photo: Hop flowers in bloom

The emergence of proprietary hops that are exclusive to particular producers poses some concerns, says Paul Gatza, director of the US Brewers Association.

Gatza said the issue had arisen largely because the US Government had cut its funding to hop breeding programs over the last few years.

“What we’ve seen is some of that research has been done by private farms or agreements so that some of the hops that have emerged over the last few years are only able to be grown by certain farmers, or who they license it to,” he told media at the Craft Brewers Conference in Portland.

“The concern is that… those are being restricted to fewer farmers, which make availability in question and price volatility greater,” he said.

The Monsanto of hops
Gatza’s comments follow a recent article by US hop merchant Douglas MacKinnon likening the practices of certain hop growers to that of the seed patenting model practised by controversial US agribusiness company, Monsanto.

“Despite the appearances of multiple companies selling the varieties and despite the propaganda that dozens of growers are growing these varieties, there are some big growers controlling every last decision related to some of the most sought after proprietary varieties,” said MacKinnon, president of 47 Hops and former executive director of Hop Growers of America.

But he stressed that while recent shortages of some varieties had given proprietary hops a bad name, “they’re not all the same”.

“Some are only offered through one or two companies. We offer some special hard-to-find varieties, but we try to stay clear of the flavour of the month hop varieties that are here today and who knows what tomorrow may bring,” he said.

“Brewers don’t have to be held hostage to somebody else’s business strategy.”

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