How Regenerative Farming Can Secure the Future of Craft Brewing

Grain to Glass: How Regenerative Farming Practices Can Secure the Future of Craft Brewing

Proximity Malt, 05-20-2024

Grain to Glass

 

Our love of beer goes back more than seven thousand years, and fermenting grains like barley is famously touted as an early sign of humanity’s agricultural beginnings. But fast-forward to today, and industrial farming faces a risky future where resources and finances are stretched, and land and crop quality are suffering. Without rethinking the way crops are produced and sourced, the future of brewing–one of the world’s oldest crafts—is starting to look bleak.

The Problem: How Conventional Farming Practices Threaten Brewers’ Sustainability

Industrial agriculture has relied on maximizing outputs from the land while reducing labor and time inputs, often through practices like tillage and synthetic chemicals. These practices negatively impact soil health, turning an asset into a finite resource dependent on chemicals to achieve high yields.

It is estimated that half of the world’s food production relies on synthetically produced nitrogen fertilizer. Over time, when you combine this with the increasing incidence of drought and extreme weather, we have become heavily dependent on fertilizer, which leads to a vicious cycle of soil degradation.

The 2022 UN Global Land Outlook found that, according to several studies, anywhere from 20% to 40% of land worldwide has degraded or is degrading. The report states that while factors like climate change, overgrazing, deforestation, and urbanization have all contributed to this alarming rate, the global food system – including conventional agricultural practices – accounts for 80% of deforestation and 70% of freshwater use.

Conventional farming practices are also a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, adding to the brewing industry’s carbon footprint. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agriculture accounts for around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with a significant portion coming from synthetic fertilizers and other industrial farming practices.

The overuse of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides in conventional farming can also lead to water pollution, biodiversity loss, and other environmental issues that impact the sustainability and resilience of the brewing raw material supply chain.

The Opportunity: How Regenerative Agriculture Can Reduce Craft Brewers’ GHG-E

Many in the agricultural community are embracing the opportunity to restore soil health, prevent land degradation, sequester carbon, and optimize water resources through regenerative farming practices.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on rebuilding soil organic matter and biodiversity, minimizing soil disturbance, and integrating livestock and cropping systems. These practices can provide brewers with a more sustainable source of high-quality grains.

A Farmer’s Perspective on Regenerative Practices
Trey Hill of Harborview Farms, a ReGenMalt farmer, has been using regenerative practices for more than ten years. On a recent visit to his farm, the Proximity Malt team witnessed the benefits firsthand. Although there had been steady rain prior to the scheduled field tour, the improved soil structure, water-holding capacity, and resilience to the heavy rains allowed the visit to take place, with our team hiking out into the middle of the field. Trey explained that the ability of soil to hold nutrients and water is positively correlated with its organic matter content and biological activity. Our team would have sunk up to their boots in mud in fields that were not able to absorb the heavy rains. When soil functions as a healthy reservoir, it can better support crop growth and withstand climate stresses.

The Environmental Benefits of Regenerative Farming
Maintaining subsurface biodiversity is a critical step in building soil structure and resilience. Regenerative practices like reduced tillage, cover cropping, and natural fertilizers can sequester significantly more carbon than conventional methods. In fact, barley grown using regenerative practices can sequester up to 4 times more carbon than it emits.
This reduces the environmental impact and creates opportunities to improve sustainable livelihoods for farmers, businesses, and local communities.

Collaborative Opportunities for Craft Brewers
Investing in land restoration through collaborative projects between farmers, maltsters, and brewers can yield multiple benefits. It can help secure a more reliable supply of high-quality grains, while also supporting the transition to regenerative agriculture at scale. Craft brewers have a unique opportunity to be part of this solution by supporting farmers who are adopting sustainable practices and building a stronger, more resilient supply chain.

The Data: How Climate Smart Commodity Programs Bring Valuable Data to Brewers

In many ways, regenerative farming is a more traditional method of land cultivation and has been used globally across many cultures for centuries. Industrial farming techniques center on practices that maximize output while the holistic approach of regenerative farming works alongside nature to improve soil health and quality. However, there’s little evidence that brewers are interested in buying regeneratively grown grains, placing the risk of transitioning solely on the producers.

Quantifying the Benefits of Regenerative Practices
As farms progress down a regenerative path, real and quantifiable changes begin to happen in their soil. These changes in soil health, carbon sequestration, and water resource optimization can be measured and verified, creating a data-driven link throughout the supply chain. If more farmers and brewers can access this verified data, it can help align the sustainability objectives of all parties.

Proximity Malt’s Data Collection Initiative
Proximity Malt’s USDA Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities is working to collect quantifiable data from soil health improvements directly from the farmers. This data can also be shared with brewers and their customers, providing transparency and accountability. The USDA will use this data to inform future projects that will help more farms transition to regenerative practices.

Using Data to Drive Adoption of Regenerative Practices
The principles of regenerative farming make intuitive sense, yet farmers have not seen increased market preferences or premiums for these practices. The data collected through initiatives like Proximity’s ReGenMalt program can help demonstrate that the risk of transition can be supported by an entire supply chain and rewarded by sustainability-conscious consumers.

The Benefits of Data-Driven Sustainability for Craft Brewers
This data is crucial for craft brewers, as it will allow them to share tangible, consumer-friendly information about the environmental benefits of their beer through sustainable sourcing. Accessing this data aligns the sustainability objectives of farmers, maltsters, and brewers.

The Challenge: How Craft Brewers Can Tell A New Story of Sustainable Malt to Customers

Craft brewers have a unique opportunity to be part of the solution by supporting farmers who are adopting sustainable, regenerative practices and building a stronger, more resilient supply chain. By choosing to source malt grown using regenerative methods, craft brewers can empower farmers to improve soil health and reduce the environmental impact of their operations.

Connecting with Eco-Conscious Consumers
Consumers, especially younger generations like Millennials and Gen Z, are increasingly making purchasing decisions based on a company’s sustainability practices and impact. Beer brewed with sustainable, regeneratively-grown grains is becoming more important in attracting these eco-conscious consumers.

Leveraging Data and Transparency
However, without the data to back up their sustainability claims, it’s difficult for craft brewers to tell a compelling story to their customers. The data collected through initiatives like Proximity Malt’s ReGenMalt program can provide the transparency and accountability that consumers are seeking.

By accessing this verified data on the environmental benefits of regenerative agriculture, craft brewers can align their sustainability objectives with those of the farmers and maltsters in their supply chain. This creates an environment where all parties are connected and able to support each other’s goals.

Driving Industry-Wide Change
Craft brewers can encourage the adoption of regenerative practices and create the incentives that bring about shifts in attitude and accelerate the adoption of regenerative, climate-smart practices across the agricultural community. If only a handful of brewers or suppliers succeed in transitioning, the overall impact will still be negligible. But as more people join in across the value chain and throughout the industry, there’s an opportunity to make a meaningful, lasting impact.

Partnering with Sustainability Leaders
Brewers can join programs like Proximity Malt’s ReGenMalt that value regenerative practices by purchasing malt grown using these methods. They can also partner with companies like Proximity Malt to share the data with their customers using new, upbeat stories about the environmental benefits of their beer through sustainable sourcing.

By embracing the challenge and telling a compelling story of sustainable malt, craft brewers can differentiate themselves, attract eco-conscious consumers, and play a pivotal role in driving industry-wide change towards a more sustainable future for the craft beer value chain.

 

Discover how regenerative agriculture can secure the future of craft brewing. Download our ebook, “ReGenMalt Impact Analysis: Enhancing Brand, Community Impact, and Sustainability.”

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