On the Farm
Water is probably the most limiting resource for growing hops, so finding ways to use it wisely is critical to sustaining farms and providing opportunities to expand acreage. The combination of usually abundant water, northern latitudes and dry, sunny summers make the arid portions of the Pacific Northwest ideal for large-scale agriculture. The sizable snowpack that accumulates in the Cascade Mountains during winter months stores and releases water to rivers during the spring to sustain farming throughout the summer.
Most of the water in arid western states comes from man-made irrigation systems. To help balance the wet and dry months, almost all of this water is captured by reservoirs and carefully controlled to meet the needs of downstream farms, cities, and in-stream flows supporting fish and native habitat.
Advances in past decades have completely replaced old rill irrigation with efficient drip systems in Washington and Idaho, however there is more to be done. In 2013, Yakima Chief completed a water footprint study of eight of their growers and found that on average, each farm used 23 inches of water per acre, or close to 23 barrels (27.5 hl) of water per kilo of dried hop cones. According to a 2003 drought bulletin from the Washington State University Prosser Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, the potential water use of hops is 24-28 inches of water per acre per year. The growers surveyed in 2013 showed that they could raise a good crop on less, but not in every case.
By improving water efficiency through technology, management practices, or more efficient hop varieties, water can be utilized elsewhere, whether it be on another acre of hops or left in the river for habitat and recreation.
For millennia, farms were what we now call “sustainable.” They were 100% powered by solar and did not pollute the environment with toxic chemicals or take more than the land could naturally replenish.
Most current farming practices rely on fossil fuels to fertilize and protect plants, drive tractors, and pump water. As the negative effects of conventional farming are recognized, some farms are choosing to blend natural cycles back into their operations to save money, enhance plant health, and protect or restore the environment.
- Kiln Fuel - Propane, or natural gas and less commonly diesel, used to dry hops is the single biggest source of emissions and one that is difficult to reduce. Airflow and heat are required to evaporate water, and capacity at harvest is usually constrained by kiln space. Because so much heat is needed on demand, concentrated liquid or gas fuels will be required in hop kilns for the foreseeable future.
- Power - Electricity is used throughout the growing season for irrigation and then intensively during harvest to power blowers, conveyors, and picking machines. Variable frequency drives on irrigation pumps and drives reduce energy demand and can extend equipment life. New high efficiency, shatterproof LED lighting also reduces energy and improves food safety. Two YCH-ownership farms have solar power generation on-site: 3D Farms in Oregon installed solar in the past five years and BT Loftus Ranches completed installation of the largest private solar array in Washington State in 2015.
- Fertility & Crop Protection - Fertilizers and pesticides that are not derived from organic sources are produced from fossil fuels. Depending on the chemistry, sprays present a risk to water sources and humans because of toxicity or fertilizer runoff. YCH maintains a complete database of all pesticide applications by field. This allows us to analyze the mix of chemicals used, their overall toxicity, and assess whether different farming practices are reducing pesticide use over time.
- Fuel for Equipment - Tractors are the icons of modern farming. To date, no one has implemented solar powered tractors, however a few of our farms do use propane powered harvest trucks that could conceivably run on bio-gas. The most practical options for farms to reduce tractor use coincide with improving fertility and pesticide programs, and reducing cultivation to minimize tractor passes (which also retains organic soil matter).
In Our Facilities
It takes energy to do work, including storing, processing and shipping hops. Using less energy to do more work is frugal, efficient, saves money and resources, and is the responsible thing to do. The source of the energy determines its impact on the environment. Because humans will never get away from needing energy, YCH’s goals are to exhaust our opportunities to use it more efficiently over time, and to increasingly get it from sources that minimize harm and yield energy security as fossil fuels run their course.
Energy Use & Carbon Emissions
In total, YCH’s US operations used approximately 50,000 gigajoules of energy in 2014 which is equal to 386,025 gallons of gasoline, or enough energy to brew approximately 230,000 barrels of beer.
Our largest source of energy consumption is electricity from the grid used for refrigeration and transportation (60%). Our second largest expense is natural gas, which is primarily consumed during CO2 extraction to maintain the temperature of the extractors; a minor amount is also required to heat buildings. Liquid nitrogen is used for cooling pellet dies to improve hop quality, and accounts for approximately 7% of our total energy use. When converted to greenhouse gas equivalents (tons of CO2) it is shown that electricity is our single largest source; direct emission of CO2 is second (53% electricity, 29% CO2 gas). We emit CO2 before (to purge oxygen from the system) and after supercritical extraction of hops (in order to open the lid we have to release the residual pressure that cannot be transferred to another extractor). This is similar to brewing operations where CO2 is vented as a by-product of fermentation and used to transport beer and purge lines.
- Efficiency - Energy efficiency should be pursued when possible, especially in the construction of new facilities. Our Sunnyside shipping facility was designed with elevated roofing and space-efficient pallet racking to maximize pounds per square foot and improve energy consumption.
- CO2 - We have designed a CO2 recapture system that will allow us to reduce our direct CO2 emissions by approximately 50% (and reduce emissions from transporting CO2 to our site). We are currently exploring the return on investment for this project.
- Natural Gas - Reducing natural gas used per kg of hops extracted can be achieved by reducing the extraction temperature or improving boiler efficiency.
- Nitrogen - Installation of new equipment and automated controls on the pellet lines in 2015 were designed to limit liquid nitrogen use, and more precisely control oxygen levels and temperature during pelleting to simultaneously improve hop quality.
- Electricity – Yakima Chief – Hopunion is currently investing in solar technology.
- Transportation - Transportation related to farming is hard to avoid, especially as acreage grows and is established further from current storage and processing facilities. Opportunities exist in practicing standard principals of reduction and efficiency by avoiding inefficient air transportation and minimizing internal transfers of product between warehouses for processing and storage. In spring, an employee Lean event focused on designing systems to receive hops at the site they will be processed, and consolidate brewery inventory to one site.