The Barth Report 2016-2017

Alex Barth

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“Buy your supplies now; this is our sincere and best-intentioned advice” – this was the tip given in
1878 by Johannes Barth, the then managing director, to the readers of the 2nd Barth Report. It is also the oldest copy that we have in our archive. The first Barth Report was published in 1877. Therefore, in this edition we are celebrating the 140th anniversary of its publication.

In addition to purchasing recommendations, the merely 29-year-old managing director made an early attempt to publish international hop and beer statistics, as well as making reliable statements on hop harvests. For 140 years now, the Barth Report has been a lasting constant in an industry that has gone through a process of change again and again. Our collection of quotations from these 140 years illustrates how erratic its development has been.

The 1926/1927 Barth Report already contained this warning: “The German brewer will continue to look for first-class quality abroad if he cannot obtain it at home. (…) The hop growers therefore have to adapt to the needs of the market, (…) in order to recapture lost markets.” One example of adjustment to changes in the laws of the marketplace was the need to get used to forward contracts in the 1960s, as “an automatic adaptation of acreage to actual demand will thus take effect, which can only be welcomed”. (Barth Report 1963/1964).

Progress was not to be held back. This also applied to the increasing mechanisation of hop growing. The reason for this was quite simply the blatant lack of hop pickers in the 1950s who left agriculture for manufacturing as a result of the economic miracle: “The growth of employment in industry is tying up workers in permanent positions, and so the
previously available gangs of pickers are staying away.” (Barth Report 1955/1956).

Another milestone, of course, was “the rapid advance of processed products”, for “the brewing industry will probably use about 1/3 of the 1971 world hop crop in processed form”. (Barth Report 1971/1972).

Our predecessors had to discover in a tragic fashion that the rules of the game in the hop industry are always determined by world events. In the face of the Great Depression of 1929 that left six million people unemployed in Germany, we expressed our “heartfelt sympathy (…) for the hop growers (…), most of whom have been tied to the economic ups and downs of their hop gardens for generations and who are now suffering in an unprecedented price crisis caused by overproduction which may even go beyond their means to survive”. (Barth Report 1930/1931). Some 70 years later, the mood of crisis began to spread once more: “Finally, the shock of 11 September pushed the already sliding world economy completely into recession.” (Barth Report 2001/2002). The Barth Report is therefore always a chronicle of its time, too.

One question, however, has remained constant throughout these 140 years: “What will the hop
industry be like in the future?” (Barth Report 2001/2002) Surely the answer is not that “the activities of the merchant [are] increasingly[determined] by the study of and the responsibility to comply with all the regulations concerning import, export, payment and transfer that so many countries around the world invent in continually new variations”, as we complained as long ago as in
1934/1935. That statement may be more than 80 years old, but it somehow seems familiar. On the contrary, the future lies in the responsible use of resources, “for thinking and acting sustainably has always been part of our company’s philosophy”. (Barth Report 2011/2012). As in the 2010/2011 report, it is with great concern that we observe: “It remains absolutely unclear what effect climate change will have on hop growing (…). But it certainly will be an issue in the future.” The challenges for the hop industry, therefore, are not diminishing. And we will certainly keep on reporting..