Hop producers are urging craft brewers to increase their support for the UK hop industry after plantings fell below 1,000 hectares for the first time.

The fall was the result of a hop producer exiting the market, the British Hop Association said, adding that 2013 had been a “difficult” year.

UK brewers were increasingly choosing more intense, imported hops from the US, New Zealand and Slovenia over UK varieties, BHA spokesman and hop grower Alison Capper said. She added that more needed to be done to educate brewers about the “delicate, complex aromas” of British hops.

“There’s a place for everyone, but we need the support of the home brewers or the industry will decline,” she said.

More profit needed to come back to growers so they could invest in machinery and new varieties, she added. This would help producers take advantage of the boom in craft beer, which presented a “big opportunity” for the industry both in domestic and export markets.

Interest in New World hop flavours was growing, agreed Andrew Whalley, technical sales manager at hop merchant Charles Faram & Co, but he claimed this also presented an opportunity. BHA researchers had been working with growers to develop new US-style varieties, he added, and two new hops were due to go into commercial production in the UK in the next few years.

Charles Faram & Co is also looking to boost British hops sales in the US. “The craft market in the States is going crazy,” said Whalley. “There are 400 breweries coming on stream year on year, but there is no available land in the US to grow hops.”

Increased global demand for aromatic varieties had already pushed up the global price of such hops, he added, and supplies remained tight.

“We can’t afford to lose producers,” he said.