AB InBev: Barley is the ‘initial touchpoint’ for sustainability

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

 Pic: ©GettyImages/dmbaker
Pic: ©GettyImages/dmbaker

Related tags Barley Beer Organic agriculture Ab inbev

Barley is not only the starting point for quality beer: it’s also the initial touchpoint for improved sustainability efforts, says AB InBev. As the brewer celebrates 50 years of partnership with barley growers in Idaho Falls in the US, it’s now looking at how to improve sustainability in the future.

AB InBev recently held a 'Grower Days' event at the company's Idaho Falls Malt Plant: an opportunity to share best practices and educate barely growers on the company’s global sustainability goals and Smart Agriculture programs.

Planning ahead

In April AB InBev released its global sustainability goals for 2025​, committing to Smart Agriculture, which ensures “100% of its direct farmers will be skilled, connected and financially empowered within the next eight years.”

The 2025 report also emphasized renewable electricity and carbon reduction, water stewardship and circular packaging, as well as a specific plan to engage 100 percent of AB InBev facilities in water efficiency efforts by 2025, including farms where barley is grown.

According to the company, it has reduced water usage by 38% in the last decade and is aiming for a further 9% reduction.

Looking to the future, AB InBev told BeverageDaily it is working to develop barley varieties with “superior agronomic characteristics such as yield, disease resistance and drought tolerance.”

The SmartBarley system has been a big part of the way AB InBev encourages sustainable practices among its global barley growers since launching in 2014.

According to Jess Newman, director of US Agronomy at AB InBev, SmartBarley is a way for growers to track their own farm’s sustainable activity and compare themselves to others nearby. More than 4,500 growers have participated in the program since its launch, though AB InBev works with more than 20,000 barley growers worldwide.

The digital dashboard "incorporates a portfolio of technology and management programs aimed at helping farmers improve yield and input efficiency,"​ according to AB InBev.

“SmartBarley insights lead to better yields and increased water efficiency for barley growers,”​ said Newman.

Uniting barley and brand

Other highlights at Grower Days included LISA, a pivot irrigation technology that waters closer to the ground. It saves up to 20% of the water and energy required to irrigate, according to AB InBev. It also showcased AgriMet, an irrigation scheduler that provides growers with “real-time access to weather and water data.”

Newman said that AB InBev’s team of 15 field agronomists are essential for supporting the company’s more than 800 barley-growing partners with barley agronomics and new technology.

“This team is our main tool for managing sustainability projects and promoting new practices and technology, including improved barley varieties. Our barley breeding team is working to develop barley varieties that can tolerate different environments and types of stress,”​ she said.

For the consumer, connections between AB InBev’s barley sustainability achievements and its global brand marketing is already starting to take shape. Consumers are increasingly interested in natural ingredients and high ethical standards from the products they purchase.

Newman pointed to AB InBev’s recent launch of Michelob Ultra Pure Gold​, and says it has created a demand for more organic grains within their supply chain that the company plans to further explore.

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