“Without barley, we have no beer — it’s that simple. Helping our growers future-proof their own businesses makes sense for ours.” — Bill Dempsey, Molson Coors’ Chief Procurement Officer
The Molson Coors Brewing Company, one of the world’s largest beer producers, is helping its barley growers better understand the impact of weather conditions on crops and adopt more sustainable practices by installing weather stations and soil moisture probes across barley farms in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and Colorado. Molson Coors has invested over $20 million in the past 10 years in its Better Barley, Better Beer program, the company’s sustainability commitment to help farmers in its supply chain future-proof their business.
Molson Coors buys hundreds of thousands of tons of barley annually. Malting-grade barley is a sensitive crop and needs just the right amount of heat and water — too much or too little of either means low-quality grain or none at all. According to a study in the Nature Research Journal, changing weather patterns and increasing droughts can lead to diminishing yields on barley and can ultimately cause an annual decline of up to 17 percent. This potential decrease in high-quality barley supply could result in increases in beer prices — up to 15 percent.
“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.”
Barley variety research
Much as fellow brewing giant AB In-Bev has done to ensure a supply of sustainable barley, one of Molson Coors' 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 — 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 percent 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 through partnerships
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This research-driven approach extends to the company’s unique partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC). In 2011, MillerCoors and TNC teamed up to develop 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 enabling data-driven approach
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.
To date, roughly 800 barley growers in the US are using the portal. While the portal isn’t yet available for the 149 barley growers in its UK-based Molson Coors Growers Group (MCGG), all MCGG farmers participate in the country’s Red Tractor sustainability certification standard, which also tracks a number of sustainability indicators. Tracking growers’ sustainability performance contributes to the brewer’s goal to source 100 percent of its barley and hops from sustainable suppliers in key growing regions by 2025.
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.
“As a grower for MillerCoors, we try to grow the highest quality crop while using all the technology that is available to us today to grow the most sustainable crop that is least impactful on the environment,” says Lucas Spratling, an irrigated grower for MillerCoors.
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 bring them along on its own sustainability journey.