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Return to Grower: Investing in Quality and Sustainability

by | Jun 17, 2020

At Yakima Chief Hops, we take pride in being a 100% grower owned hop supplier. But what does that really mean, to be “grower owned?” By definition, it means that our organization is owned by 15 hop growers from across the Pacific Northwest who help to make impactful business decisions with the best interest of both growers and brewers in mind.

But to us, it is much more than that. Being grower owned provides us with a meaningful and tangible connection to family hop farms. It allows us hands-on opportunities and involvement at the farm level, from sustainability best practices to quality management. It gives us a seat at the table in the hop growing community so that the border between brewers and farmers remains transparent. And it ensures the voices of hop growers are heard.

Because of this, we are uniquely in tune with the needs of our growers. We know what it takes to run a farm and run it well. And we know what it takes to truly produce a quality crop. This is why Yakima Chief Hops provides an industry-leading Return-to-Grower, allowing family farms to deliver quality hops year after year.

What is the “Return-to-Grower?”

A Return-to-Grower (RTG) is the dollar amount given back to the farms for the sale of their hops. At YCH, we are keenly focused on returning as much value to the farm as possible. We are proud to say that, on average, 76% of the revenue from hop sales is returned to growers, owners and non-owners alike. YCH currently sources from more than 50 different family hop farms from the Pacific Northwest, as well as a few others across the globe. 

What is the impact of RTG?

As a grower-owned company, we know that quality begins in the fields. In order to harvest quality hops, growers must have the resources to maintain, improve and expand their fields and facilities, which starts with a fair, healthy RTG. Strong, sustainable returns allow growers to make critical investments in people, land, infrastructure, and farming practices that lead to high quality, stable hops.

In the past six years, an estimated 400 million dollars have been reinvested in farm facilities across the Pacific Northwest, allowing YCH and our growers the opportunity to expand with the industry and continuously improve on quality. These reinvestments have included:

  • 33 New Picking Machines
  • 22 New Kilns
  • 24 New Baling Rooms
  • Dozens of significant upgrades to full facilities.

In addition to field and facility investments, higher quality hops also require more labor, as more people are needed to monitor the hops throughout the entire growing and harvest seasons. Proprietary hops require even more attention, as they are more closely monitored for varietal purity and consistency to protect the value of the brand. (Visit the Yakima Chief Ranches FOOTPRINTS® program to learn more) Appropriate pricing and a high-end RTG help to ensure that growers are able to employ the workers needed to operate a quality-focused farm.

“The relationship that growers and brewers have with each other has developed a trust that has led to massive reinvestments in people and infrastructure at the farm level, leading to substantial improvements in quality and supply,” said Drew Gaskell, VP of Supply Chain Management at Yakima Chief Ranches. “This is beyond what the pioneers that started YCH envisioned when they started this company decades ago. Brewers are willing to invest in fair, long-term contracts, giving growers the opportunity to make improvements that wouldn’t have been considered 10 years ago. Younger generations are back at the farm, excited about quality, sustainability, and long-term relationships with breweries. It’s exciting to think where we will all take this next from a quality and innovation standpoint.”

How does this benefit brewers?

From our Green Chief® program to our industry leading RTG, we make quality our business from the ground up. There are many programs and services that we feel passionate about and provide value to our customers. However, we know quality is one that has a direct impact on the success of our brewing partners. With that, we have made it a top priority. We want brewers to be able to create consistent, competitive beers that make their customers happy and keep their businesses thriving. We make a commitment to help our growers continuously invest in their farms knowing that the difference between a good beer and a great beer is the quality of ingredients.