AB InBev and gene-editing company Benson Hill Biosystems are partnering to develop more productive and sustainable varieties of barley.
AB InBev plans to combine the application with traditional breeding methods to advance development of higher-yielding barley using less water and other natural resources, according to a release. Barley is particularly sensitive to drought and extreme heat so coming up with varieties that have greater resilience to climate change is important, the companies said.
"For AB InBev, brewing quality beer starts with the best ingredients. That requires a healthy environment and thriving communities," said Gary Hanning, AB InBev's global director of barley research.
AB InBev isn't the only major brewing company partnering to develop more sustainable sourcing of ingredients. Heineken has a list of partnerships the Dutch firm has entered into, and one of them — AIM-Progress — is a group of manufacturers and suppliers focused on promoting responsible sourcing and sustainable production systems.
With this latest partnership between AB InBev and Benson Hill, the goal is to give farmers more productive and sustainable barley varieties by using the most advanced tools in seed innovation. According to Benson Hill, its technology can identify the most promising genetics, whether the eventual target is greater yields, environmental sustainability or enhanced nutrition.
It could take some time before more productive and sustainable barley becomes available to manufacturers. That's because it can take six or seven months from barley planting to harvesting. However, Benson Hill emphasized that its CropOS platform can speed up product development and make it simpler through a combination of machine learning and big data, along with genome editing and plant biology.
AB InBev also uses an innovation platform called SmartBarley launched in 2013 to pull together data, technology and insights to aid farmers in the company's supply chain. According to AgFunder News, more than 5,000 farmers worldwide have participated in SmartBarley so far to benchmark progress and share best practices.
This new partnership, if it works out as intended, could have a positive impact on developing barley varieties that can better withstand drought and extreme heat conditions. More barley growers could also take advantage of the technology to plant types of barley with higher yields and fewer water requirements. Major beer makers no doubt have a stake in the production of barley for their brews, and taking a proactive stance now could pay dividends in the future.
Sustainability is an important factor to consumers as well. According to recent research from Indiana University, most beer drinkers would pay more for products made with sustainable practices. In addition to more sustainable grains, brewers are cutting energy costs by adding solar panels and on-site wastewater treatment, insulating vessels and recapturing steam coming from the brewing process. AB InBev said last year that by 2025 all Budweiser beers brewed globally will use 100% renewable energy, and products that meet this goal will have a "100% renewable energy" symbol on the label. AB InBev could consider adopting a similar label to promote its use of more sustainable barley if its partnership with Benson Hill is a success.