- Alcohol giant Diageo has announced the launch of a regenerative agriculture pilot for Guinness on barley farms in Ireland. It is a part of the company's larger sustainability push, Society 2030: Spirit of Progress, in which one of the goals is to start regenerative agriculture pilot programs in five different sourcing landscapes throughout the decade.
- The three-year pilot program aims to lower carbon emissions in its barley production cycle, which the company says will improve soil health, increase biodiversity, reduce use of synthetic fertilizers, enhance water quality and better overall livelihoods for farmers.
- The Guinness pilot program is a part of a slew of agriculture projects in the alcohol industry looking to improve carbon footprint and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a goal emphasized at the United Nations' COP26 climate conference last fall.
Diageo's foray into regenerative farming practices may be starting in Ireland with Guinness, but it won't just inform supply chain choices in the country that birthed the beverage. Diageo Europe's president, John Kennedy, said in the launch announcement that the pilot program will help the company make decisions on a wider scale across different areas where it grows materials for beverage production.
"We will openly share the results from the pilot [program] so that other farms can learn and adopt practices that have demonstrated the highest potential impact from an environmental and farm profitability standpoint," Kennedy said.
Diageo has stressed that targeting the CO2 in its operations is its main environmental priority. As the company laid out in Society 2030, it aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions across its supply chain, along with halving its Scope 3 emissions and using 100% renewable energy, by the end of the decade.
One of the farmers involved in the pilot said in Diageo's announcement that it will be an easy adoption for farmers because they already use regenerative practices.
"The great thing about regenerative agriculture is the simplicity of the approach. It’s not a complicated process — it works in harmony with nature whilst providing a commercial benefit for farmers," said farmer Walter Furlong Jr.
Nevertheless, there remains some dispute over what exactly constitutes a "regenerative" practice, both within the agriculture sector and among academics. Generally, regenerative agriculture is defined as a set of farming practices that restore soil and water by sequestering a critical mass of CO2 from the atmosphere. Diageo made a point to give its own definition in its statement: "an approach to farming that works in harmony with the natural environment to put back more than it takes out."
Taking the step to lower carbon emissions through improved soil practices can be a way for companies to signal to consumers their dedication to environmental, social and governance issues. The consumer impact of regenerative agriculture claims on products has been mixed. In a recent survey of 1,000 consumers from the International Food Information Council, 36% of respondents said that while they view products made through regenerative agriculture as healthier, they are ultimately not willing to pay more for them.
Diageo joins other alcohol giants who have enacted regenerative practices in their barley operations. Anheuser-Busch donated $530,000 across four different U.S. universities in 2020, through its charitable foundation, to create model farms in rural areas to research regenerative practices like soil health and irrigation efficiency, specifically with regard to barley. Molson Coors has similarly worked with barley farms in Colorado, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming to implement new practices, including weather stations and soil moisture probes.