Brewers Association Engages With Key Agricultural Partners

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In support of the Brewers Association’s (BA) primary purpose of promoting and protecting American craft brewers, their beers, and the community of brewing enthusiasts, the BA’s Technical Brewing Projects Team worked this winter to ensure brewers continue to have access to high-quality raw materials. To this end, the BA nurtures relationships with key agricultural partners and supports policies that ensure access to healthy and sustainable agricultural ingredients.

The trade organizations that support the growers and processors of the brewing industry’s two principal ingredients, barley and hops, typically host their annual meetings, conferences, and lobbying activities in the winter months. What follows are brief summaries of the meetings and activities that BA Technical staff participated in during the first quarter of the year. These interactions continue to nurture the long-standing relationships that allow staff to understand the changes and trends in the ingredient supply chain and communicate BA members’ needs to the industry’s agricultural partners.

American Hop Convention & HRC Winter Meeting

The annual American Hop Convention, hosted by the Hop Growers of America (HGA) and Hop Research Council (HRC), is conducted every January. BA Technical Brewing Projects Manager Katie Fromuth represented the BA at this year’s meetings. Updates from each of the major hop-growing states (Idaho, Oregon and Washington) included discussion of last year’s hop harvest, the upcoming 2024 growing season, and HRC-funded research project progress. These updates provide valuable insight into ongoing and emerging potential threats to the hop supply chain that then are communicated to BA members.

The results of the BA’s 2023 Hopsource event were presented to the HRC membership, and Fromuth also provided a craft brewing industry update alongside representatives from the Beer Institute and World Brewing Alliance during the Brewing Industry session of the convention. This sharing helps hop growers and merchants better understand the state of the craft brewing industry so they can best navigate business decisions and work towards keeping the hop supply chain healthy and strong. The meeting archives can be found on the HGA website.

Craft Malt Conference

The 2024 Craft Malt Conference was held at the University of California, Davis this past February. The conference opened with news of a change in leadership. Alice Blayne-Allard stepped down from the Craft Maltsters Guild’s Executive Director position, and Steve Kurowski, formerly of the Colorado Brewers Guild, has taken the reins. While the craft malt community is small relative to the greater malt industry, there is no denying their importance to many BA members and their passion for their craft. This was exemplified by their engaged questions after Fromuth provided conference attendees with a craft industry update.

In addition to the educational seminars that spanned topics from malt breeding to health and safety to Kernza and more, the guild held the sixth annual Malt Cup Awards Ceremony. This competition is the only malt sensory competition of its kind and encourages growth in craft malt quality and flavor. Many BA staff members participate as judges annually in the competition.

NBGA Winter Meeting and Hill Climb

The National Barley Growers Association (NBGA) conducts their winter meeting in the District of Columbia along with their annual Hill Climb. BA Technical Brewing Projects Director Chuck Skypeck holds an NBGA Board seat and represents independent craft brewers’ perspectives in discussions and decisions. In addition, Skypeck participated in visits with key congressional offices and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials to support the NBGA’s key policy priorities. These priorities include enhancement to the current crop insurance program in the Farm Bill, equitable treatment for barley if revisions occur in the Price Loss Coverage program, and increased support for and more frequent reporting from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

NBIC Hill Climb

The National Barley Improvement Committee (NBIC) is the advocacy arm of the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA). The NBIC represents the community of U.S. barley growers, researchers, maltsters, brewers, distillers, and allied industries. The group has been highly successful over the past two decades in securing funding for barley research and maintaining favorable agricultural policies at the federal level. Skypeck and Fromuth both hold seats on the NBIC as representatives of the brewing industry. In March, Skypeck joined the NBIC in their visits to key USDA officials and over 100 congressional offices, advocating for funding of the ongoing Barley Pest Initiative, the new Resilient Barley Initiative, and other policy priorities.

HRC and HGA Hill Climb

Immediately following the NBIC Hill Climb, Skypeck switched gears and joined the HGA and the HRC in support of their annual lobbying efforts. The federal priorities for the hop industry are numerous and complex. They range from the usual funding requests for the public hop breeding program to labor and trade issues, disaster relief (hops are not currently covered under federal crop insurance programs), and funding for other critical programs such as the IR-4 Project, the National Clean Plant Network, and the USDA Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops grant program. The group visited just over two dozen key congressional offices and the USDA’s National Program Leader for Specialty Crops.

BA staff participation in these events is key to understanding the challenges faced by the industry’s agricultural partners, maintaining relationships with the central players within the respective trade organizations, and, most importantly, representing independent craft brewers’ interests in these important policy and funding decisions.