Apparently, craft beer is better for farmers and US agriculture than that 30 bomb of Busch Light you’re considering buying. A new study by the USDA shows that craft beer uses 3-7 times as much barley per barrel than Big Beer. So craft beer is better for the backbone of the US workforce, agriculture.

A six-pack of Miller Light retails for about $5.50 in Texas, while typical craft beers go for about $10 per six—not even twice the price for four times the barley (and flavor). (Craft beers also tend to contain much more of the other main ingredient in beer, hops). In essence, Big Beer has hit upon a profitable strategy for reselling tap water at a high markup.

In the last 30 years there has been a big decline in US barley production and craft beer could boost it. It would increase jobs and reliance on our own agriculture as opposed to outsourcing it. As you can see from this graph via Wikipedia there has been a steady decline, even during these 3 years, with craft beer in an upswing.


Top barley producers in millions of metric tons
Rank Country 2009 2010 2011
01  Russia 17.8 8.3 16.9
02  Ukraine 11.8 8.4 9.1
03  France 12.8 10.1 8.8
04  Germany 12.2 10.4 8.7
05  Australia 7.9 7.2 7.9
06  Canada 9.5 7.6 7.7
07  Turkey 7.3 7.2 7.6
08  United Kingdom 6.6 5.2 5.4
09  Argentina 1.3 2.9 4.0
10  United States[33] 4.9 3.9 3.3
World total 151.8 123.7 134.3

Why the decrease in barley production? We can blame Big Beer for watering down their beer for that!

Overall US malt demand has fallen since the early 1990s as Big Beer has shifted to lighter styles [BTT emphasis] and seen demand for its products drop. But the craft renaissance has begun to offset and could eventually reverse the trend of falling malt demand, the USDA researchers conclude.

The USDA research shows that craft beer could help reverse the decrease in barley production.

The researchers conclude that the craft beer renaissance could boost domestic barley production—total US barley acres peaked at about 11 million in 1990 and have since fallen well below 5 million acres. About a quarter of US barley is used as animal feed; the great bulk of the rest gets malted for beer.

But alongside the craft-brew explosion, small, locally oriented malt houses are springing up nationwide, providing a link between brewers and nearby farmers.