BRITISH hop growers have been left with serious questions about the viability of their businesses as the Government refused to provide support to help soften the impact of the pandemic.

The sudden closure of the hospitality sector in March saw pubs, hotels and restaurants shut their doors immediately.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said on-trade cask beer sales fell to zero, which are normally 67 per cent of sales. This meant demand for hops from breweries fell and many growers face an uncertain future about whether demand will return.

The industry made the case to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) about the importance of supporting the sector, including taking the current hop surplus off the market, but no financial intervention will be provided.

One farmer who grows hops and fruit on land near Bromyard fears the sector could shrink if more isn’t done by the Government.

Ali Capper, of Stocks Farm in Suckley, is also the NFU horticulture and potatoes board chairman. After talks with the Government over what support could be offered, she said there is no immediate help coming, with a review expected later in the autumn.

She said: “British cask ale is an iconic product and British hops are a key part of that. We want to see this industry thrive and expand, not contract.

“Unfortunately, the news that the Government does not want to intervene to support the industry leaves growers with serious questions about how their businesses may survive.

“The Government has committed to review the situation with growers in the autumn and growers hope that they will honour this commitment.”

Mrs Capper, who employed around 65 seasonal staff in 2019, said the industry was not immune from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The impact the closure of the hospitality sector had on agriculture was enormous and hop growers have not managed to escape those impacts,” she said.

“The vast majority of cask ales poured in pubs across the country are brewed with British hops and lockdown meant that brewers have been left with a surplus of hops, leaving the sale of the 2020 and 2021 crops in jeopardy.

“Hops are not a commodity crop, they are grown to order on contracts from brewers and hop merchants.

“Although all the hops grown this year are under contract to brewers, if brewers are not making the same level of beer sales, the contracted hops will create a surplus.

“We fear that without intervention in the industry the 2020 crop will not be sold and contracts will not be offered for future years which will lead to hop farmers choosing to exit the industry, which would be a great shame.”

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The hop harvest is just one, and Defra won't provide any financial support.

A Defra spokesperson said: “We are aware that the pandemic has been a particularly challenging time for many hop growers following the closure of the hospitality sector.

“We encourage growers to make use of existing schemes such as the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and bounce back loans which are open to businesses in need of help.”

The spokesperson added there will not be any financial intervention for the hops sector at this time, but “will continue to monitor the situation”.