At a rare open day at Wye Hops near Canterbury, Darby told industry figures: "We are unique in the world in that we take just as much care over the male parent - and that's where most of the interesting characteristics have come from."
Most significant of these has been dwarfing, allowing "hedgerow" growing formats. "The rest of the world is following in our work - dwarf varieties are now being developed in the USA, Germany and the Czech Republic. But they are still 20 years behind us," he explained.
The UK hop industry was decimated by Verticillium wilt in the 1980s, and has remained small in scale since. "We are at year five or six of a programme to find a wilt-resistant replacement, and are currently propagating for trials," Darby said. "We are still two or three years away from a commercial launch."
The breeding station, located within a commercial hop farm, is funded by the British Hop Association.
the sector body representing the UK's 55 remaining hop growers, who represent just 1.6 per cent of global production.
Meanwhile East Kent Goldings has has become the first British hop to gain protected designation of origin (PDO) status in the EU. "It's grown in many parts of the world, but you can only call it East Kent Goldings if it's from here," Darby explained.