British hop growers have been left with serious questions about the viability of their businesses after the government rejected industry calls for support to help mitigate the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector.
The sudden closure of the hospitality sector in March saw pubs, hotels and restaurants close immediately and on-trade cask beer sales fell to zero, which are normally 67% of sales. This meant that the demand for hops from breweries fell and many British hop growers face an uncertain future about whether demand for British hops will return.
The industry made the case to Defra about the importance of supporting the sector, including taking the current hop surplus off the market.
NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman Ali Capper said:
“The impact the closure of the hospitality sector had on agriculture was enormous and hop growers have not managed to escape those impacts.
“The vast majority of cask ales poured in pubs across the country are brewed with British hops and lockdown meant that brewers have been left with a surplus of hops, leaving the sale of the 2020 and 2021 crops in jeopardy. Hops are not a commodity crop, they are grown to order on contracts from brewers and hop merchants.
“Although all the hops grown this year are under contract to brewers, if brewers are not making the same level of beer sales, the contracted hops will create a surplus. We fear that without intervention in the industry the 2020 crop will not be sold and contracts will not be offered for future years which will lead to hop farmers choosing to exit the industry, which would be a great shame.
“British cask ale is an iconic product and British hops are a key part of that. We want to see this industry thrive and expand, not contract. Unfortunately, the news that the government does not want to intervene to support the industry leaves growers with serious questions about how their businesses may survive. The government has committed to review the situation with growers in the autumn and growers hope that they will honour this commitment.”
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