I ran across this article earlier and it made me realize that I haven’t really spent any time looking into the history of hops in Michigan. The main thing being that with our growing hop industry why did we stop growing hops in the past. My first thought was maybe the rise of prohibition hurt the industry too much. Considering hops sole purpose is for brewing it makes a little sense. But that would be too easy an answer.
I did a little digging and first ran across this article. This article is about the Michigan Hop Alliance featuring Brian Tennis. In the second paragraph there is mention of Michigan hops in the mid 1800s dying out due to infestation by the hop louse. Hops at the time were being cultivated along with cherry trees in Northern Michigan. When the hops were decimated the cherry crops picked up the slack. Even now cherries are a huge crop in Northern Michigan. But again this doesn’t give us more than a glimpse into the hop’s past of Michigan.
This took me to Michigan Crop Research Guide produced by the Michigan State University Library (mentioned in the Alliance article). There wasn’t a huge amount of information there pertaining to pre-prohibition hops. The focus is turning more toward current production. But I did find an interesting piece in the fifth annual report to the board of agriculture (1866).
Geo. P. Oatley is listed on the MSU site as the link for the report. In this year’s report (1866) the louse is mentioned as vermin but it is said that they are not a main problem in the hop production for the year. Instead at the time there was a heavy drought, with only a few days of rain during the month of July. It is in the 1867 report that not only drought but the louse had also hurt production in Michigan.
As we look at the growth of brewing in Michigan and with it the rebirth of hops farming, we seem to be hitting an odd turn. Last year was a horrible year for some of the important crops of Michigan, particularly apples and cherries. It was also a year where drought seemed to affect quite a bit. We seem to be building our industry during a time similar to what decimated the industry so many years ago.
The good news is, with progress we find ways to defend against old problems. There are new methods of pest control and irrigation has done wonders to ensure that many crops will still get the nourishment they need. With knowledge and perseverence we may just be able to look forward to many years our local farms supporting our local brewers.
Time for a pint…