Efforts to Protect Beer Production from Climate Change

by Chloe Baker
Climate Change Beer Production

During a vibrant autumn day, Gayle Goschie’s farm, located roughly an hour from Portland, Oregon, bustled with activity. Goschie, a fourth-generation hops grower deeply entrenched in the beer industry, oversees her farm during its quieter season. The barren trellises of fall are now accompanied by winter barley, a newer addition to their crop rotation, as they prepare vast quantities of barley seeds.

The farm’s adaptation is a response to the direct impacts of anthropogenic climate change on water availability and weather fluctuations in the Willamette Valley, a renowned hops-producing area. Goschie and her team are urgently adopting new agricultural tactics to maintain their output for both local and major breweries, as climate change becomes an immediate reality.

Hops and barley, essential for beer production, are already feeling the strain of climate change in the United States. Growers report adverse effects from extreme weather, including heatwaves, droughts, and erratic growing periods. Collaboratively, scientists and farmers are developing strategies to mitigate these impacts, such as breeding drought-resistant hop varieties and incorporating winter barley into crop rotations.

Mirek Trnka, a professor at the Global Change Research Institute, has long warned of climate change’s impact on beer ingredients. His recent study in Nature Communications predicts a 4-18% yield reduction in European hops by 2050. Trnka emphasizes the urgency of addressing climate change to preserve not only critical crops but also culturally significant products like beer.

The pace of climate change is deceptive, often too gradual for immediate notice but rapid in the grand scheme. Trnka sees potential for adaptation and solutions, but the challenges are significant.

American beer producers are also feeling the ripple effects of European hops declines. One craft brewery, reliant on German hops and sourcing some from Goschie, is now experimenting with new American-grown varieties to replicate the desired European flavors, adapting to the impact of recent hot, dry summers in Europe.

Shaun Townsend, an associate professor at Oregon State University, is at the forefront of creating hop varieties that can endure changing climatic conditions such as heat, pest alterations, and reduced snowfall affecting irrigation. This research, while time-consuming and complex, aims to address the critical issues of taste and yield in the face of potential water scarcity.

Concurrently, advancements in barley cultivation are gaining momentum. Kevin Smith, a University of Minnesota agronomist, notes the growing feasibility of winter barley in the Midwest. Previously overshadowed by spring barley, winter barley now presents a viable option due to its resilience to climate, disease, and economic factors. This crop is increasingly attractive to craft breweries seeking local ingredients and offers environmental benefits as a cover crop, enhancing soil health and carbon sequestration.

However, the transition to winter barley has not been without skepticism. Smith recounts a colleague’s firm disbelief in the potential of winter barley, a sentiment challenged by continuous research and development efforts.

Ashley McFarland of the American Malting Barley Association acknowledges the growing prevalence of winter barley programs across the U.S. While it may not dominate the barley market, its role in diversifying agricultural practices and enhancing climate resilience is undeniable.

Major beer companies like Molson Coors and Anheuser Busch, despite their sustainability pledges in sourcing and water conservation, have not provided specific comments on these efforts.

Douglass Miller of Cornell highlights the broader implications of climate change on beverage production. The increasing scarcity of water, a crucial ingredient for beer, could lead to rising beer prices, mirroring trends across other food and beverage categories.

As the beer industry grapples with the challenges posed by climate change, the future availability and diversity of beer may change. Plant breeders like Hayes face an uphill battle in developing new varieties of barley and hops that can withstand the harsh realities of a changing climate.

This report features contributions from Big Big News journalist Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit and Melina Walling in Chicago. Follow Melina Walling’s updates on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @MelinaWalling. For more climate-related news, visit AP’s dedicated page at http://www.apnews.com/climate-and-environment. Big Big News’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by various private foundations, with the AP maintaining full editorial independence.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Climate Change Beer Production

How is climate change impacting beer production?

Climate change is adversely affecting two key beer ingredients, hops and barley. Extreme weather conditions like heatwaves, droughts, and unpredictable growing seasons in the US and Europe are challenging traditional farming practices and yields.

What are the strategies being implemented to protect beer from climate change?

Researchers and farmers are collaborating to develop drought-resistant hop varieties and incorporate winter barley into crop rotations. These efforts aim to sustain beer production despite the changing climate.

How does climate change affect hops and barley in the US and Europe?

In the US, hops and barley are experiencing the impacts of extreme heat, drought, and erratic growing seasons. In Europe, a study predicts a 4-18% reduction in hops yield by 2050 due to climate change.

What role do major beer companies play in addressing climate change?

Major beer companies like Molson Coors and Anheuser Busch are committing to sustainable sourcing of hops and barley and reducing water usage. However, specifics of these efforts are not detailed.

Are there any technological advances helping to adapt crops to climate change?

Yes, researchers are working on breeding hop varieties that can withstand warmer temperatures, less snowfall, and changing pest conditions. Similarly, advances in winter barley cultivation are showing promise for more resilient crop production.

What challenges are associated with adapting beer crops to climate change?

Adapting beer crops like hops and barley to climate change involves addressing factors like taste, yield, and water availability. The process is time-consuming and complex, with the necessity to develop new crop varieties that can withstand varying climate conditions.

More about Climate Change Beer Production

  • Nature Communications Study on Hops
  • Global Change Research Institute
  • Oregon State University’s Hops Research
  • American Malting Barley Association
  • University of Minnesota Agronomy Research
  • Molson Coors Sustainability Report
  • Anheuser Busch Environmental Commitments
  • Cornell University Beverage Studies
  • AP Climate and Environment Coverage

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John Smith November 11, 2023 - 6:26 pm

great article but i think it misses out on how local breweries are also fighting climate change they’re doing amazing things too!

Mike_Oregon November 11, 2023 - 8:58 pm

Its good to see OSU getting involved, we need more research on this ASAP, climate change is no joke!

BeerLover99 November 12, 2023 - 2:41 am

fascinating read but a bit technical? maybe simplify it a bit for us non-scientists haha. still, really important stuff here.

Emily R. November 12, 2023 - 10:15 am

i’m not sure about the stats here, 4-18% seems like a big range? also, would’ve liked more on how this affects beer prices directly.


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