From: Shannon Dininny, Associated Press
Published April 22, 2005 12:00 AM

Should Beer and Wine Drinkers Pray for Rain in the Pacific Northwest?

YAKIMA, Washington — Could beer guzzlers and wine aficionados suffer a drought of their own if the Pacific Northwest doesn't see rain soon?

The region is the nation's largest producer of hops, a key ingredient in beer, and Washington state and Oregon are among the top five states producing wine. But the Pacific Northwest is enduring what water managers say is its worst drought since 1977.

Drought is definitely the hot topic, but less so for wine than any other crop, said Mike Haddox, general manager of Eastern Washington operations for Washington Wine and Beverage Co.

Wine grape growers use a technique called regulated deficit irrigation to stress the grapes a little bit anyway.

"Other crops, stress is not a good thing. You don't end up with a good product," Haddox said. "But wine grapes actually go into a survival mode and concentrate on their fruit."

Washington state produces roughly 75 percent of U.S. hops, which were a $73 million crop for the state in 2003. Oregon and Idaho rank second and third.

Hop growers often don't start watering their crops until May, but they need a water supply well into autumn, said Steve George of the Washington Hops Commission.

"The month of September is all about sizing and getting the flavoring, and if you don't have the moisture at the end, you're not going to have what they need," George said.

Tom Carpenter, a hop grower in Washington's Yakima Valley, began irrigating his hop fields early in the season in anticipation of having his water shut off in April by the irrigation district.

"We're irrigating hops that we wouldn't normally irrigate this early in hopes that it'll hold the water," Carpenter said.

source: Associated Press

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