Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Hop economics

We're back with our Hampshire Farnhams farmer, Mr. Harris.

The more details I see of the financial side of his hop growing, the more I wonder why he bothered with them. It looks as if he almost always made a loss.

"3429. Chairman.] Do you generally send your hops to the Weyhill market? -Generally, I have sent them to the London market occasionally.

3430. Are hops grown in your district generally sent to the Weyhill fair? — The hops grown in our district are generally sent to Weyhill.

3431. Do those grown in the Isle of Wight go there ? —That is in our district.

3432. Sir Edward Dering.] Do you think that the price of the white bine hops, with the best description of farming, does not amount to as much as that of the Kent Goldings? —I do not know. I have been told that the Goldings will fetch more money than the best Farnham hops; that I have been told for a fact.

3433. Chairman.] What is the rent of hop land in your neighbourhood? — I should think from 40s. to £4, or £5 an acre. I put my own at 40s. compared with the rest of my land.

3434. Mr. Bass.] Are you speaking of the country district exclusively? —Exclusively; I do not know the rent of any other lands.

3435. Are there any lands set at £4 10s. an acre in the country district? —Not less. I should say that it would be worth that, supposing the whole land to be in hops; I should not think it is separately let at that. I am taking Binstead, and some of those districts upon the marl land, where they grow large crops, and good. They grow three or four times as much as I can.

3436. Sir Edward Dering.] You do not know of any instances of that? —I do not. Generally speaking, the farmers of our neighbourhood all occupy it with other land, as well as hop land, and it is all let together.

3437. Chairman.] What is the extraordinary tithe rentcharge ? —It is 10s. in my parish; 13s. 4d. in several of the neighbouring parishes.

3438. Have you none higher than that? —I do not know of any higher.

3439. Is hop growing considered a less profitable business than other kinds of farming in your neighbourhood? —I have never found it so profitable; I have found it the reverse, I think.

3440. Is that your experience, when there is a good crop? —It is not a profitable business at all.

3441. Is that the general opinion of the farmers? —I think not. I think, in the best hop districts, that they grow them at an advantage.

3442. Chairman.] Do you consider your land as some of the best hop growing land? —I do not.

3443. Mr. Bass.] Do you consider it some of the worst? —As far as regards hops I do.

3444. Then your land is not an average specimen of the growth of the country? —Not in quantity, and probably not in quality. The quality I think is not equal to some Farnham hops.

3445. Chairman.] How long does a hop garden last in your district? —I have some that have been in hops this 40 years or thereabouts.

3446. Do you know of any that have been in existence longer than that? —Yes, no doubt there are lands which have been in hops longer than that in our neighbourhood. The principal land that I have, has been in hops from 8 to 11 years.

3447. To what circumstance then do you attribute the fact, that hop growing has not been a profitable business, except with men who have particularly good land? —We do not grow a quantity sufficient, according to the prices, to pay our expenses.

3448. Do those who occupy the best lands grow larger crops? —Yes, they do undoubtedly grow larger crops.

3449. How much do they grow on the best lands? —It depends upon the year. I have heard of as much as 25 cwt. being grown to the acre ; but I can not answer for that; I only have it by hearsay; a ton to the acre is sometimes grown.

3450. From your own experience, how much have you grown an acre? —I have grown 18 cwt. an acre.

3451. Mr. Bass.] How much do you grow? — Something about four or five cwt.; I do not like to say I always do. I think that the year before last I was particularly lucky in my crop; but upon the average of years I have farmed my hops in a different way to which I have farmed lately, for I have neglected it very much before.

3452. Chairman.] Do you consider that it is only because you cannot grow such large crops as your neighbours that hop growing has not been a profitable business to you ?— I do not consider that; I cannot consider that it will be profitable to anyone at the price that hops have sold at last year. I know many hops that sold at from 60s. to 70s. generally, and the expense of bringing them to market, the drying and picking, and the duty, amounts to 50s.

3453. Do you think that it would be a benefit to the farmers if there were no Excise duty upon hops? —Yes, I do."
Report from the Select Committee on Hop Duties, 1857, pages 180 - 181.
He seems a very odd  person to have selected to give evidence. He didn't grow very many hops and he didn't seem committed to them as a crop.

It's clear that the famers in Mr. Harris's district only grew hops on a small percentage of their land. Presumably it was just a sideline, rather than their main crop.

How good a yield was four to five cwt. per acre? Not great, it seems, based on these figures:

UK Acres of hops a yield per acre by district 1848
acres cwt yield per acre
Kent 26,063.00 216,325 8.30
Sussex 11,592.25 119,716 10.33
Worcester 7,915.50 30,872 3.90
Farnham 2,898.00 24,007 8.28
Essex 342.00 2,011 5.88
North Clays 361.75 2,194 6.07
rest of Britain 60.50 296 4.89
Total 49,233.00 395,421 8.03

"An Historical Account of the Malt Trade and Laws" by William Ford, London, 1849, page 229
Weight of hops calculated for duty paid, based on a rate of 19s 7.5d per cwt.

to put that in an international context, here are the numbers for US hop-growing regions from a few decades later:

Acreage, yield, and value of hops in the United States in 1890.
States. Acres. cwt. cwt. per acre
New York 35,552 159,475.2 4.49
Washington 5,282 79,309.3 15.02
California 3,796 51,044.5 13.45
Oregon 3,223 34,029.6 10.56
Wisconsin 871 4,107.9 4.72
Other States 238 1,253.6 5.27
Total 48,962 329,220.0 6.72
"Hop Culture in California" by Daniel Flint, 1900, Government Printing Office Washington, page 24.

I'm surpised to see that the yield per acre was, on average, higher in the UK than in the USA. Though even the worst West Coast region, Oregon, was more productive that the best in the UK, Kent. However, 25 cwt. per acre, which Mr. Harris claimed was possible, seems like a bit much.

Strange that the total area of hops being grown in the two countries is almost identical. Though the figures are a few decades apart.

The report of the committee would have a huge impact on the US hop industry. Because the committee was considering the repeal of two sets of hop dutes. The first and most obvious one was the excise tax on hops. The second was the import duty.  The committee was considering free trade in hops and that's what eventually happened in 1862.


qq said...

"I'm surpised to see that the yield per acre was, on average, higher in the UK than in the USA. Though even the worst West Coast region, Oregon, was more productive that the best in the UK, Kent. However, 25 cwt. per acre, which Mr. Harris claimed was possible, seems like a bit much."

You shouldn't be so surprised - in general British cropping is more intensive than its US equivalents, most obviously in modern wheat farming where we get about 9t/ha and they get 3t/ha - it's all about the economics of fertiliser etc.

With hops, it's very dependent on variety. For instance, p691 of this JIB has Tolhurst at 30cwt in Worcester in 1922, versus 15cwt "in other growths". It then goes on to compare beers with other hops versus Tolhurst "as around this hop a considerable amount of discussion had arisen. Tolhurst is a bit of a funny one - first selected in 1882, it was considered to have low alpha (this paper has easily the highest alpha I've seen for it) but high beta, and to have better preservative qualities than they expected based on the alpha. But really the high yields and a bit of disease resistance were the only things going for it, it was generally hated by the brewers but had some use in milds where they wanted preservative effect but little hop flavour. Still, it got planted quite a bit in Mid Kent after WWI - presumably less so after this report came out!!!!

Sic1314 said...

Stranger still that the US population in 1890 would be over twice that of the UK in 1850. Was per-capita beer drinking in the UK that much higher than across the Atlantic, had the nascent forces of prohibition already had that much effect? Or were British beers relatively strong hop bombs at the time?

Ron Pattinson said...


British beer was hoppier and the British drank more beer.

Robert Pugh said...

qq - I read the report you linked. Thanks, really interesting.