Worrying about the state of the industry is nothing new. Being a hop farmer is a precarious existence. The yield varies massively from year to year, as does the price. And, unlike barley which also has uses as food or animal feed, brewing is the only place hops can be employed. That's a lot of variables, all of which are out of the famer's hands.
"Mr. Barclay Field on the Hop Industry.—At the Edenbridge Fat Stock Show dinner Mr. Barclay Field presided, and, replying to some observations from Mr. R. Norton, M.P., said that, as an owner of property and as a tenant farmer, farming something like 1,200 or 1,500 acres of land, he could fully sympathise with his friends around him, and regretted he could not speak more hopefully of the agricultural interest. He had grown hops every year at a loss, and he quite felt that the hop industry was not at all in a satisfactory state. Mr. Norton had given them various reasons why that was the case. In the first place, the hon. member mentioned that hop substitutes were used. Now, as far as he (the president) knew—and he had pretty good means of ascertaining—he did not believe there was the slightest danger of the hop industry being hurt in that direction. He did not believe that any large firm would use any such thing at all. It was supposed in 1882 that a large quantity of substitutes would be used; but, as a matter of fact, the quantity was very small. The market was forced by the supposition that they would be used, and prices went up. In that year hops went up to an unjustifiable price, and brewers were induced to try if they could not do with less. The result was that they found they could, and to that fact the present system of brewing was owing. The real thing that had injured the hop industry was the introduction of ice. Every brewer now had an ice-making machine, and he could brew in July as well as he could in October. Nor did they require anything like the same amount of hops. That was his experience. He believed, however, there was a growing disposition on the part of brewers to prefer English hops to any others; and unless they rose again to prohibitive prices English hops would always be preferred, because they were known to be the best. They had every reason to expect better times. There was a time when he should not have said the same, but there was no doubt the English brewers had bought up the hops this year, and next year if farmers could grow a really good crop of good quality they would have no difficulty in getting rid of them."
"The Brewers' Guardian 1889", 1889, page 393.
There was a good reason foreign hops were imported: the UK simply couldn't grow enough to satisfy the demands of brewers. As you can see from the table below, in the 1890s an average of around 179,000 cwt of hops were imported each year into the UK. Or around 20% of the hops used.
The numbers go up and down, but during between 1880 and 1900 the acreage of hops in the UK declined by almost 25%. Though an increase in yield meant the quantity of hops produced actually increased.
|Hop production and imports 1857 - 1900 (cwt)|
|year||Acreage||UK production||yield per acre||net imports of foreign hops|
|1928 Brewers' Almanack, page 119|
|“100 Years of Brewing” 1903, page 656.|
Did ice machines affect the demand for hops? Perhaps. It had been standard practice to hop beers more heavily in the summer than in th winter. Would have artificial refrigeration change this? I'm not sure it would, as the beer needed protection after it left the brewery, not whaile it was in it. Pub cellars wouldn't be refrigerated for a long time to come.
There's another reason why hop usage might be falling: the move away from Stock Ales. Keeping Porter, for example, died out in the 1870s. That required far more hops than Running Porter, which became the only type made. The move from Stock PAle Ale to Running Pale Alewould similarly have caused a reduction in the quantity of hops used per barrel of beer.
The first year I have details of hops susbtitutes is 1902. When 173 cwt. of hop substitutes were used and 647,547 cwt. of hops. Pretty clearly substitutes weren't replacing hops and the use of them was minimal.