There are many elements which go into connecting family-owned farms with the world’s finest brewers. With a relatively small number of hop farms concentrated in the Pacific Northwest and an ever-growing base of brewers across the world who are insatiably curious, and driven by quality, we’ve had to continually design and refine systems to manage different aspects of our supply chain. To begin the process of laying out how we manage quality and sustainability across our business, I’d like to provide an overview of how YCH HOPS has expanded programs from both Yakima Chief and Hopunion. We have integrated key programs and built a strong foundation for working with brewers to provide valuable information to and from farmers, which we hope will drive change and advance the industry.
Below we have laid out our business cycle across a diagram of how a hop makes it from a grower’s mind to a brewer’s glass. We employ different programs for farming, harvest and YCH’s core business. Our programs were not developed by us in a vacuum but were designed collaboratively over time with our partners, in either brewing or farming, and have taken on names and purposes which held value for their creators. I won’t go into great depth on each here but in the future we will be publishing more information to further communicate our tools, reveal how we use these programs and demonstrate their progress.
Select Botanicals Group, LLC
YCH works closely with Select Botanicals Group, LLC (SBG), the breeding and field management group behind Simcoe® that also co-owns the HBC hop varieties. Beyond just breeding, SBG manages the production of Simcoe®, Mosaic®, Citra® and Equinox® hops for YCH to ensure reliable availability of high quality hops. Their Certified Select™ program covers root stock management for purity including annual rogueing of every field for males and off-types, specific guidelines for training, harvest windows and kilning, and providing year-round crop management and grower support.
*Simcoe® YCR 14 cv., Citra® YCR 394 cv., Mosaic HBC 369 cv., Citra® YCR 394 cv., and Equinox™ HBC 366 cv. are registered trademarks of Select Botanicals Group, LLC (Brand YCR) and/or Hop Breeding Company LLC (Brand HBC).
GreenChief™ – Yakima Chief – Hopunion’s Farm Quality and Sustainability Program
The GreenChief™ program originated at Yakima Chief, Inc. when growers saw the need to address quality and sustainability at the farm to remain sustainable for the long haul. The Yakima Chief grower-owners developed their own best practices team, sustainable practices survey, cost survey and harvest food practice guidelines. These pioneering hop growers knew that to remain competitive (this was before the craft boom), they had to compete together on quality and sustainable practices (in regards to cost, environment and society).
Now 15 years in the making, the program has recently become more focused on quality and harvest best practices as the original Yakima Chief growers have been joined by over 25 other growers in the YCH HOPS community. We’re currently striving to foster strong baselines for hop quality and harvest practices. In 2015, our recurring best practices meetings have brought together farmers from Oregon, Washington and Idaho to discuss best harvest practices, brewer feedback, powdery mildew management, dry hopping and hop backs at Bale Breaker Brewing Co. and more. We hope to not only promote and develop strong practices for traceability, harvest facilities, farm sustainability, grower feedback and reporting, but to also promote collaboration between farms, suppliers and brewers. There is a lot to the program these days which we’ll dive into in another post.
Hop Selection – YCH’s Grower-Brewer Feedback System
At YCH, we view hop selection as an interdepartmental quality program which contributes to fulfilling brewer preferences for particular flavor profiles and helps provide essential quality data to our GreenChief™ farm quality program. While selection originated as a way for brewers to evaluate the current crop and choose hops for their specific needs, it has evolved into the premier way we communicate brewer feedback to farms. It is aimed at improving hop quality and brewer communication systems through the use of harvest data, transparent communication and candid feedback. By participating in selection, a brewer’s qualitative commentary will be used to allocate hops to contracts and help specify consistent blends for the entire brewing community. Ultimately, all lot specific feedback and any corresponding lab data will be provided directly to the farms so correlations can be made between sensory, analytics, and best farming practices.
ISO 9001 and 14001 Systems
We run our business according to internationally recognized principals of continuous improvement under which we have developed a quality and environmental management system certified to the ISO® 9001 quality management system and ISO® 14001 environmental management standards. These specify, control and provide for continuous improvement of the way we work throughout our business. The system uses GreenChief™ and Hop Selection as conduits for feedback across the value cycle to ensure we are providing value to all of our business partners. Yakima Chief was an early adopter of ISO® 9001 in 1998 and the first hop company to implement an ISO® 14001 certified environmental management system in 2010. We have been hard at work at our Yakima facility (formerly Hopunion) to deploy the same ISO® 9001 system this harvest and will be certified later this fall. ISO® 14001 certification will follow in the next year or so.
While our quality systems provide structure, principals of Lean manufacturing provide tools to enable our employees on the front lines of service and production to affect change, reduce waste and improve quality of work, service and product. In 2015, as part of bringing the cultures of Yakima Chief and Hopunion together and to address challenges we have faced in inventory control and customer service, we provided more than 4000 hours of Lean training to employees. This included a one-day class for all staff members and focused, week-long Kaizen events to tackle specific process improvement opportunities and build skills within departments to help Lean take root within YCH.
We’ve adopted these many systems into the way we manage YCH HOPS to help us grow well. The growth of the craft brewing industry has put our company in the right place at the right time and we’ve seen tremendous change in a very short amount of time. As we grow and build, our aim is to instill a culture of quality into the fabric of YCH HOPS which, while we’ll stumble from time to time, will lead us continuously to creating better ways of working. Whether you’re a brewer, a farmer or a coworker, our commitment is to continue the dialogue of how we work and together ensure communities everywhere a steady supply of delicious hoppy beer.