IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Officials at Anheuser-Busch have set a goal of including 100 percent of their U.S. barley growers in a corporate sustainability program, called SmartBarley, by 2025.
Already, nearly 80 percent of the grower base participates in the voluntary sustainability program, which surveys growers about their production methods, irrigation usage, agronomic inputs and yields.
The company provides growers with anonymous data comparing their practices to others in the region, and throughout the world, hoping growers will implement the best practices to improve efficiency.
The program already includes 525 U.S. participants, and 4,500 participants worldwide. Company officials declined to say if they would ever mandate participation to reach their goal.
Idaho is the nation’s top barley-producing state, with an estimated 530,000 planted acres this season.
During a July 13 Grower Days event at its Idaho Falls malt plant, Anheuser-Busch celebrated 50 years of working with Idaho growers.
“Almost half of the beer we deliver to consumers (in North America) is dependent on barley grown in Idaho,” said Dave Taylor, an Anheuser-Busch brewmaster and vice president of supply. “Our partnership is essential to us, and we are the biggest buyer of barley in Idaho.”
The event included a SmartBarley booth, where staff showed growers a cluster chart on nitrogen application rates. They explained they’ll likely contact growers represented by a few outlying dots who appear to be overapplying fertilizer.
“It gives us a good comparison on where to benchmark what we could be doing and what others are doing,” said Hamer, Idaho, grower Justin Place. “We all need to be looking at a way to conserve and maintain our quality of what we’re doing, using less fertilizer and inputs of water.”
In addition to SmartBarley, the company is helping growers improve sustainability through development of new barley varieties, crop-management trials, funding AgriMet weather stations to provide farm-specific evapotranspiration data and research into new pivot irrigation technology designed to conserve water and power.
The company recently updated its overall sustainability goals — covering its own operations and its entire supply chain through 2025.
In addition to its grower program, the company is working to improve water stewardship, reduce energy use and emissions and to boost the amount of reused and recycled material in manufacturing and packing.
“Every time we’ve launched sustainability goals, we’ve achieved them much sooner than our original timeframe,” said Ingrid De Ryck, vice president of procurement and sustainability for Anheuser-Busch. “The difference now is we’ve raised the bar significantly. We’re going wider.”
The company, which reduced its water use by 38 percent during the past decade, aims to conserve another 9 percent by 2025. At its Idaho Falls malt plant, John Drake, director of western malting operations, explained the company is investigating a plan to reuse a million gallons of wastewater per day, or to clean it and inject it into the aquifer to boost groundwater levels.
The company aims to cut carbon emissions by a quarter throughout its value chain — including its grower base. Toward that end, the company has ordered 40 Tesla electric trucks and recently announced the purchase of 800 hydrogen trucks, hoping to pilot the zero-emissions fleet by next year.
All of its packaging should soon be made from majority recycled or returnable materials.
In May, the company added a logo to cans acknowledging its goal of using 100 percent renewable electricity. Anheuser-Busch recently covered half of its power goal by opening an Oklahoma wind farm.
Anheuser-Busch also has a global breeding program to release more sustainable barley varieties, producing about 1,300 experimental lines per year.
Gary Hanning, director of the company’s global barley research program, said the company has an experimental line close to release that should give growers a hardy new winter barley that uses a quarter less water and is suited for a broader area of Idaho. Hanning said Anheuser-Busch is also evaluating an Oregon State University winter barley, called Thunder.