Why Anheuser-Busch Is Tapping Into Analytics for Barley Production

Decision-makers at Anheuser-Busch InBev see Big Data as a powerful tool in beer making.

That’s why the world’s largest brewer and user of malt barley is investing in an innovative analytics capability to improve the cost, efficiency and quality of its barley production while minimizing impacts to the environment.

Using agriculture software by Agrible Inc., AB InBev wants to provide farmers worldwide access to better data and predictive analytics on crop management and climate effects.

“We are the biggest user of malted barley, so it was up to us to make sure barley remains sustainable and competitive so farmers will want to continue growing it,” says Katie Hoard, global director of ag innovation for AB InBev.

“We are the biggest user of malted barley, so it was up to us to make sure barley remains sustainable and competitive so farmers will want to continue growing it.”

AB InBev farmers will gain access to Agrible’s Morning Farm Report agriculture software, which helps growers detect disease threats earlier, improve logistics planning, monitor crops on all fields and improve quality.

Morning Farm Report will enhance AB InBev’s existing SmartBarley platform, which the company created in 2013 to leverage data, technology and insights to help farmers solve challenges and improve their productivity and environmental performance.

The platform started out as a benchmarking tool allowing farmers to enter their own information and anonymously compare it to other farmers in the region.

Now present in 13 countries across five continents, the SmartBarley platform has evolved to help identify supply chain gaps and opportunities for introducing new projects, innovations and farming methods. For example, AB InBev observed from its data that farmers in Mexico were applying a lot more fertilizer than other farmers in the supply chain. The Mexican growers were able to adjust their fertilizer use as a result. “It was costly for them, and it also can be detrimental to the environment,” Hoard says.

AB InBev runs its own analytics lab at the University of Illinois Research Park, where Agrible is one of its neighbors. The company started working with Agrible in 2016 on a project to forecast barley yield and quality factors through better crop modeling and predictive analytics for American farmers. The relationship has developed beyond the United States into a major international expansion. AB InBev farmers will have access to the Morning Farm Report technology across multiple countries on a variety of crops, beginning with South Africa, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina.

“The road to achieving a sustainable global supply chain isn’t an easy one, and we want to help address those challenges with technology and teamwork,” says Paul Miller, chief science officer for Agrible. “We engage all areas of the supply chain, starting with growers at the field level.”

Morning Farm Report will allow growers to work on the efficiency of not only barley in their operation, but also corn, soybeans, wheat, peanuts oats and other crops.

“It’s really about taking a holistic approach with our farmers to make sure they have the right insights across their operations,” Hoard says.

AB InBev is working with Agrible to build out sustainability insights for its malted barley supply chain and metrics in areas such as water use, land efficiency and the carbon footprint from growing and sourcing ingredients. Agrible will use data AB InBev has collected from several different countries to build a global sustainability view. “We can look at how our farmers compare to other farmers in that region, but we also can take a global view to drive continued improvement for our farmers in the long-term,” Hoard says.