Toast a beer for natural gas!

By Douglas Weathers, President of Sodbuster Farms Inc.

As policymakers and businesses pursue initiatives designed to reduce carbon emissions, I find little difference in our shared goal of combating climate change

But there are differences in approach.

Policymakers favor solutions designed to eliminate or increase the cost of natural gas, while businesses seek innovative methods to align production with environmental protection. Sadly, this leaves business and government working against each other when so much more can be accomplished together. As the president of Sodbuster Farms Inc., a hop grower who provides the key ingredient to some of Oregon’s finest craft brews, let me use the occasion of National Beer Day on April 7 to demonstrate the great progress we’ve made in our industry.

Natural gas is a little-known tool in beer production as it is used to dry hops before they can be shipped for use by brewers. After wood-fed kilns were phased out years ago, many hop growers turned to diesel to power equipment. The emissions this generated left a bad taste in brewers’ mouths, however, and they pushed for alternatives.

As a result, hop growers switched to natural gas, the cleanest-burning fuel that can be used on our farms. There are no acceptable alternatives with a lower carbon footprint. While this required a complete reconfiguration of our drying infrastructure, advancing a key environmental objective was worth it.

But we haven’t stopped there. Over the last few years, we have worked to optimize our dryer so we get quicker results while using less natural gas. In the last year alone, we reduced our natural gas consumption by 15%. We did this by increasing our drying capacity so we can process more hops, thereby reducing drying time. We also use state-of-the-art technology to let us know exactly when the hops are dry, so we use only as much natural gas as necessary.

These won’t be the last modifications. We can make the largest impact on our carbon footprint by further reducing emissions from our dryer. We also are fully supportive of statewide plans to invest in renewable natural gas and hydrogen, which emit no carbon whatsoever. Ensuring the pipeline infrastructure is in place to deliver gas means we’ll be ready to convert when it’s available. Bans on natural gas will only result in an abandonment of the system we need to further decarbonize our economy.

Natural gas is a reliable, cost-effective energy source. Our farm, like everyone else, has been feeling the effects of rising fuel prices. Natural gas has not totally escaped rising prices. Coming out of a pandemic and several natural disasters, it is more important than ever that we pay attention to controlling our costs. Fortunately, as inflation has impacted many production costs, in America natural gas has remained fairly steady compared to other fuels. This means farmers like me can sustain family farms in the face of an uncertain economic future.

We are doing our part to create a sustainable future for all of us, and we are excited to see natural gas companies’ plans to generate and deliver clean gas. Greater efficiency, controlling costs and a smaller carbon footprint are not just the dream; they are the directives we operate by.

This article was originally published in The Statesman Journal.

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