With the wounds of Anheuser-Busch’s thundering Super Bowl slam against corn farmers still relatively fresh, it’s no surprise to see competitors doing their best to celebrate some positive relationships with farmers — thus setting themselves apart (far apart!) from the Bud Light maker.
The Molson Coors Brewing Co. has announced that it has invested over $20 million in the past 10 years in a variety of sustainability and supplier initiatives to help farmers future-proof their crops, reduce water usage, and ensure barley supplies are sustainable. These efforts include:
- Investing in technology like weather stations and soil moisture probes to better understand the impact of temperature, rain events, snow pack and other variables on the availability of water.
- Coupling water data with drought maps and advising farmers on what water usage will be like in the next few years.
- Paying more per bushel to growers that align their practices with Molson Coors’ recommendations and show progress on initiatives through the sustainability incentives program.
That third item alone is a mentality that many farmers would like to see more food companies adopt.
But why is Molson Coors doing this?
Last year, a study found that yields of barley, a primary ingredient in beer, can decline sharply (as much as 17 percent) in periods of extreme drought and heat, which can threaten beer supplies. Mother Nature often makes water supplies erratic and growing seasons uncertain, and leaves farmers to deal with the consequences.
Molson Coors, which buys hundreds of thousands of tons of barley annually, has installed weather stations and soil moisture probes across barley farms in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado, all with the hopes of helping its barley growers better understand the impact of weather conditions on crops This was done through its Better Barley, Better Beer sustainability program.
“Without barley, we have no beer — it’s that simple,” says Bill Dempsey, Molson Coors’ Chief Procurement Officer. “Helping our growers future-proof their own businesses makes sense for ours. We’ve focused our efforts on bringing farmers on board our sustainability journey and helping them implement sustainable practices that are accessible, relevant and effective.”
Here are some other efforts Molson Coors has taken:
Barley variety research: One of those programs focuses on in-depth research into barley varieties to explore various beneficial properties of different strains. This work led to the development of Bill Coors 100 (BC100) — Molson Coors’ own irrigated barley cultivar — that was launched in 2016 as a malt barley that reduces the need for water and can offer up to 33% higher yields. The barley breeding program is helping farmers integrate more sustainable growing practices and grow a more successful crop, despite shifts in weather patterns and growing conditions. This work contributes to the brewer’s 2025 goal of improving water efficiency in its agricultural supply chain and malting operations by 10 percent.
Sustainability partnerships: This research-driven approach extends to the company’s unique partnership with The Nature Conservancy. In 2011, MillerCoors and the conservation non-profit teamed up to develop our Showcase Barley Valley in Silver Creek, Idaho to explore techniques in irrigation efficiencies and create a body of research on tested practices that reduce risk for farmers. The brewer works with farmers to implement proven programs and tools, such as weather stations and soil moisture probes, which measure soil water content. Knowing how much water is already in the soil is crucial for helping farmers manage their irrigation systems and timings more effectively, ensuring no water is wasted. The weather stations also enable farmers to make more data driven decisions around planting and irrigations times.
Grower-direct portal: Molson Coors also offers a unique digital Grower Direct Portal, which enables farmers to collect precise data of agricultural best-management practices at the field level. This in turn allows Molson Coors to aggregate data and identify higher-level sustainability trends and opportunities.
Incentivizing sustainable farming: Molson Coors financially incentivizes its growers to be more sustainable by paying more per bushel weight. Farmers are paid more to align their growing practices with Molson Coors’ recommendations and show progress on reducing inputs on their farms (tracking water, energy, nitrogen, phosphorous, fertilizer, etc.). The program, launched in 2018, will help farmers lay the foundation for continuous improvement on several sustainability areas and reduce the overall environmental footprint of their crops.
Through these combined initiatives, Molson Coors is providing a comprehensive way to help its farmers embed sustainability in their business, adapt to climate change, and support them toward sustainability.