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The science of agricultural production matters a lot when only a handful of ingredients make up your food or drink. Think coffee, which is just one ingredient. Or beer. The most recognizable lager in America, Bud, is brewed today with just four ingredients: rice, barley, hops, and water. Kimberly Rogowski has spent the last 15 years finding and buying those ingredients for Bud and other beers in the Anheuser-Busch portfolio, including Budweiser, Bud Light, and Michelob ULTRA. She’s now the director of the brewer’s agronomy program. Rogowski knows how fewer ingredients makes the quality of each of those ingredients more important. That’s why she and her 14-person agronomy department start their work focusing on the soil.
“Throughout the entire brewing process,” she says, “from seed to sip, we test our ingredients every step along the way – before it ever touches the brewing process and multiple times as it goes through it, until it's a finished beer. Quality is definitely at the heart of everything that we do.”
Crop quality is inextricably linked to land management; rice farming practices that rely on fewer tons of greenhouse gas, for example, or fewer gallons of water will guard against soil erosion. Regenerative farming practices give us a chance to even bring back our topsoil, 40% of which is degraded around the globe. Knowing how to achieve the precise input reductions while still producing a large and healthy crop means more data and analytics are needed for detailed understandings of on-farm variability. All while farmers should see a greater financial upside for changing how they work.
In partnership with Indigo Ag now for a third year, Anheuser-Busch has supported data-driven beneficial land stewardship, higher-quality rice, and less waste—while bringing greater equity to farmers. Results from the first growing season of the partnership, in 2019, outpaced every expectation for the resource-intensive rice crop. Two billion gallons of water were saved. Nitrogen application dropped 13.3%. Methane emissions abated 26.6%. All while 29 rice growers, hailing from Missouri and Arkansas, made a premium for the data and attributes of their rice.
“Our relationship with Indigo really enables us to further our 2025 sustainability goals where 100% of our growers will be skilled, connected, and financially empowered,” Rogowski says. “Even more so, we together can set an example and be a leader within the industry. We are showing other companies that sustainability in agriculture can be done.”
Rogowski’s not alone in seeing agriculture’s premier importance on the climate stage. Breweries, distilleries, and vineyards worldwide have shown distinct headway in their climate preservation and land regeneration efforts. Delaware-based Dogfish Head Brewery, for one, brought a fully traceable ale to market last year while also buying enough agricultural carbon credits to offset that ale’s entire production cycle. Dogfish Head even knew the farmer and grain merchandiser providing their ale’s wheat by name!
Dogfish Head founder and brewer Sam Calagione said of this new product, Re-Gen-Ale, “It’s shown us how thoughtful and sustainable choices, both big and small, can impact our environment. It has also taught us about new, nature-based solutions we can implement to reduce our carbon footprint and help combat climate change while brewing unique and delicious beers.”
Similarly, Colorado-based New Belgium Brewing made their signature amber ale, Fat Tire, the first certified carbon neutral beer in the U.S. in 2020. And in the coming eight years the company’s entire 28 drink portfolio will be carbon neutral. New Belgium even holds the distinction of building the first domestic wind-powered brewery in 1999. “The vast majority of our customers care about supporting environmental action and climate action,” said Katie Wallace, the social and environmental impact director at New Belgium. “What [New Belgium] has been working towards addressing for many decades is feeling increasingly real and urgent for our customers.”
Wallace also spoke to the importance of a united front, of every brewery making sustainability part of their company’s mission. “There is a lot of collaboration around sustainability,” she said. “If just one of us is successful in our environmental efforts, as a whole we won’t ultimately avoid climate change which affects us all. So at New Belgium, we’re very open to sharing our learnings… we want to accelerate a path to carbon neutrality.”
Breweries, it’s clear, have a vested interest in agricultural productivity and sustainability. They have articulated clear climate and economic commitments, standing behind the planet and its farmers. And their accelerating work has also been fueled, in large part, as Wallace mentions, by consumer demand. People want to know and trust the origins of their food – and that includes their beer. They are demanding sustainability at every step, juncture, and outcome in every supply chain because food is too important to overlook. As Rogowski put it, reflecting on procurement work, “Nothing's more satisfying than knowing where a product comes from.”
For Rogowski, food transparency takes on a transcendent quality because she can see it right in front of her, with her own eyes. “To look out on a field,” she says, “and think, these barley, this rice – these crops will become the product we offer. It’s the most important relationship to remember.” New technologies, from soil sensors to remote sensing, precision application to digital logistics, make producing food sustainably and tracing that food’s path along a dynamic supply chain easier; everyone can have Rogowski’s insight without being in Rogowski’s shoes. Ask Jyoti Shankar, the principal data scientist at Indigo working on the Anheuser-Busch partnership, and other large supply chain initiatives. Understanding and integrating the field, satellite, and transportation data firsthand has made it clear to Shankar that transparency is difficult, but not impossible.
“Agricultural supply chains are often complex and opaque to buyers and brands,” she says. “But there are data-fueled solutions to bring end-to-end visibility to agricultural supply chains and an efficient, risk-free buying experience for brands who want real proof that their climate initiative has been achieved.”
Rogowski is no stranger to this back-end, technical effort either. “It’s something Anheuser-Busch is great at,” she says. “Looking at data to drive insights and feedback from there. Those are tangible results we can show the industry. And the results are key. They’re what keep us coming back to work with Indigo each year.”