Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hops season right around the corner, planning ahead for workforce shortage with higher wages

Amber Betts WSDA Communications

Hops flower on the vine.
When we hired cherry inspectors earlier this year, we saw difficulty in filling all the positions, so we decided to increase the already competitive wage.

With hop season right around the corner, we are preparing for similar results with a limited workforce nationwide to do the work. So we’re doing it again. Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is preemptively increasing the pay for our hop samplers and graders to more than $17 an hour. That’s nearly $2 more an hour than it has been in the past.

Every year we provide a service to the hop industry in Washington state; “samplers” take a portion of the crop back to the lab in Yakima where our “graders” get to work. After all is said and done, farmers are left with a seed, leaf, and stem certificate that allows them to export their product worldwide.

We are gearing up to hire more than 40 people to work about six weeks from August to October. This is a busy job, full time, seven days a week, with overtime. We are looking for graders to work in the lab and samplers to go to the farms and warehouses to collect samples of the local hops.

As an “inspector” you’ll be part of the Plant Protection Division of WSDA. The program grades hops for seed, leaf and stem content, and analyzes hops for brewing value. The Yakima Valley produces over 70% of the U.S. hops and 25% of the world’s hops. But first, we need the samples of the hops to analyze. That’s where you come in.

Day in the life of a sampler

As a sampler, you’ll travel to farms and warehouses, maneuver bales of hops, collect the samples and label them correctly. You’ll enter the information into WDSA software that we will train you how to use. You’ll bring the samples back to the lab, where our graders will get to work.

This is the perfect chance to be part of the worldwide industry. If sampling isn’t your speed, lab work might be for you.

Graders get the job done

Once the samples arrive, graders begin their work. You’ll sort the samples, remove debris, record their weight, sift material into a divider, and split samples between seeds and leaves/stems. The seed samples will be taken to the oven, then the cones will be crushed into a powder leaving behind remnants of the stems and seed. This will further be sorted, leaving just the seed behind. Seed is something no farmer wants to see. It lowers the grade of the hop.

Hops core samples
taken for grading.
The leaf and stem will be sorted using a machine with stacked pans. This consists of using a shaker with stacked pans of varying size of screens for the sample to fall through. Once the sample is through the pans, the grader analyzes it at a grading table. Only the leaf and stem will remain. This takes good eyesight and hand dexterity. Hops are graded on how much of their product contains leaves and stems. The more leaves and stems, the lower the grade.

To apply, visit our employment page.