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Anheuser-Busch working with rice farmers on water

Anheuser-Busch spends $5 billion on ag commodities and is vested in sustainably grown crops.

Kimberly Rogowski says Anheuser-Busch believes you can’t make a great beer without high quality agricultural ingredients, and, in today’s environment, that increasingly means with sustainably produced crops such as barley, hops and rice.

Rogowski, senior director of agronomy for the St. Louis, Mo.-based Anheuser-Busch, leads a team of 14 agronomists who work with farmers on those three crops in their five major growing regions across the United States.

“At Anheuser-Busch we recognize that sustainability isn’t just related to our business; it is our business,” said Rogowski, who spoke during the Rice Agricultural Sustainability Virtual Field Trip, one of a series of webinars produced by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Aside from requiring the finest quality ingredients, a healthy environment is a key component in the brewing process to create the beers we all know and love. And our consumers are asking that these products are produced sustainably and contribute to the environmental efforts in their community.”

Over the last 10 years, Anheuser-Busch has spent more than $5 billion on agricultural commodities, she said. A portion of those have included rice processed at the company’s brewing facility in Jonesboro, Ark.

Sustainability Goals

In 2018, Anheuser-Busch announced a series of sustainability goals the company hopes to reach by 2025. They are designed the contribute to the United Nations development goals by building resilience, supply chains, productive communities and a healthy environment.

They were defined in such a way that they reflect those areas where we can have the biggest impact; where we have the size and scale to drive meaningful change in our industry and the world,” she said. “Our ambitious goals are focused in four main pillars: water stewardship; smart agriculture; renewable electricity and carbon reduction; and circular packaging.”

On smart agriculture Anheuser-Busch’s goal has three key performance indicators that involve working with the growers of those agricultural ingredients. Those include insuring producers are skilled, connected, and financially empowered on the skilled front.

“We are working with Indigo Rice to use more sustainably produced rice,” she said, referring to the digital services company with offices in Memphis that is working to help farmers grow crops more sustainably. “In our second year of partnership, we’ve saved more than 2 billion gallons of water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 24%.

“We’re also partnering with land grant universities to advance research and continue to add new skills to our toolbox. Our flagship agricultural development program is Smart Barley, which is led by my agronomy team to help growers improve their productivity, profitability and natural resource efficiency.”

Arkansas Discovery Farm

Launched in 2013, Smart barley has collected field level data for more than 700 barley, rice and hop growers in the U S and 7,000 globally to help improve their farming practices. “The core of smart barley is to convert data into insights that lead to better yields, higher quality and decrease costs for our growers,” she noted.

Specifically, the Anheuser-Busch Foundation is partnering with the University of Arkansas on one of its Discovery Farms where agronomists are exploring ways to reduce water inputs and improve productivity in the rice growing regions.

“Taking a deeper look at the Discovery Farm, we partnered with the University's Division of Agriculture starting in 2020 with a goal of working with rice farmers to help them become more efficient in water use and to document continuous improvement towards sustainability, including profitability and natural resource conservation,” she said.

“The specific objectives we are working on together include studying the water use efficiency of four different approaches to water management, comparing the effect of these water management systems on runoff volume, as well as quality of runoff, comparing the various practices on soil, fertility and nutrient uptake, reviewing the economics and the return on investment of the different treatments and developing an educational program on sustainability for use by rice farmers.”

The project is more than simply collecting data, she said. “We're facilitating our growers to be proactive with their water management practices and be involved in finding solutions to measurably, improve water availability and quality.”

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