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Growing better barley, more sustainably

MillerCoors takes sustainable agriculture seriously and is not afraid to lead by example

Great beer requires great ingredients, so our US joint venture MillerCoors takes a hands-on approach to ensure it has ready supplies of the high-quality barley its breweries need.

Around 75% of MillerCoors barley comes direct from 864 independent growers in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. MillerCoors has also farmed its own land in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for more than half a century.

With more than 90% of MillerCoors total water usage occurring within its agricultural supply chain, and with water quality – and availability – becoming a concern in some growing areas, the company is devoting considerable resources to understanding water risks and identifying areas where farmers can improve water efficiency.

Among the most high profile of these initiatives is the Showcase Barley Farm in Idaho’s Silver Creek Valley, created by MillerCoors in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. The farm aims to maximise yields while minimising the use of water, energy and fertilisers – in the past three growing seasons alone, it is estimated to have saved around 429 million US gallons of water (enough to fill around 650 Olympic swimming pools), as well as cutting its energy use in half.

One of the big contributors has been shutting off pivot end guns, which are a sprinkler-type mechanism for spreading water over a larger area. Turning them off can save around 150 gallons of water a minute. In addition, the farm adopts ‘smart irrigation’ techniques, such as deploying GPS technology to control irrigation systems remotely.

MillerCoors is also using its San Luis Valley farm as a proving ground for new, improved barley varieties and water-efficient farming techniques, which can then be shared with neighbouring growers.  Some of the new barley varieties can get by on less water without a loss of quality; MillerCoors farmers are also studying the possibility of shutting off irrigation earlier in the growing cycle without impacting the quality of the harvest
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It’s one thing for us to have great ideas, which we never have to implement ourselves, by using the MillerCoors farm to pilot those ideas first, we’re showing leadership and that we’re committed to playing a key role in securing the local water supply and maintaining crop quality.
Judy Jolly | Southern Colorado Agronomist

Learning and best practice are shared freely with all MillerCoors barley growers, via one-on-one meetings and regional gatherings, as well as through the Barley Farming Sustainability Guide written and published by the company in late 2013 and rolled out at the 2014 Grower Spring Meetings.

MillerCoors has joined forces with General Mills, Syngenta and Simplot to form the Idaho Sustainable Ag Partnership, a pilot project to collect data from a number of growers shared between the companies, which can then be used to develop sustainable farming practices with reduced environmental footprints.

“The bottom line is that if you’re not on top of technology and new varieties, the odds are against you in the long run,” Judy Jolly adds. “Our growers have been really proactive in water conservation and one of the best things we can do as a company is to continue to be supportive and lead by example."