IndigoAgriculture and Anheuser-Busch entered into a partnership in March 2019 to recruit rice farmers from Arkansas and help them grow rice sustainably.Anheuser-Busch is the largest end-user of rice in the United States. The brewer first started using rice in 1876 to add a clean, crisp taste to its lagers.Today, the company processes approximately 2.6 million pounds of rice a day at its facility in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Indigo Agriculture enrolled farmers around the Jonesboro mill and helped them grow rice that used 10% less water and 10%less nitrogen compared to regional averages. In collaboration with Regrow (formerly Dagan) and AGS, Indigo Agriculture designed a protocol to reduce methane emissions by 10%. Given that rice production contributes to 35% of methane emissions globally, this first-of-a-kind partnership aimed to reduce emissions and save natural resources while making Arkansas rice farming profitable.
The partnership furthered the missions of both Indigo Agriculture andAnheuser-Busch, helping farmers sustainably grow rice while empowering them with technology, research, and financial incentives. Through the partnership, our rice farmers practiced environmental responsibility, reduced risks for specific conservation measures, and earned additional income for their environmental stewardship.
Across 11,000 acres, the 29 rice farmers in the program adopted several beneficial practices, leveraging Indigo's system of digital and data-driven solutions, ranging from microbial products and agronomic support to transactions on IndigoMarketplace and delivery of grain through Indigo Transport. Dagan used data collected by Indigo's agronomists, weather, soil, and remote sensing to quantify reductions in methane emissions for each farmer using Dagan’s DNDC model. Anheuser-Busch guaranteed the farmers a premium for the specialty attributes associated with the rice. In the first year of the program, our collaborations enabled us to exceed our shared environmental and sustainability goals. Our farmers achieved a 23.7% average decrease in water use, a 13.3% average reduction in nitrogen applications, and a 26.6% average reduction in methane emissions.
On average, Arkansas rice farmers in the partnership saved between $17-27 per acre, with average savings of $19 per acre. Farmers earned these savings through several means, including the market premium from Anheuser-Busch, by shutting down wells, saving on water and electricity, growing conventional rather than hybrid varieties which decreased equipment wear and tear, reducing long-term production costs and finally, lowering the cost of fertilizer by reducing nitrogen applied.
Over the season, our rice farmers saved more than 2 billion gallons of water. The regional water use for an average rice farm in the area, grown with continuous flooding, is 30 inches per acre per season. In contrast, rice farmers in our program averaged just 22.9 inches per acre over the season by switching off wells for an average of 9 days. This conservation practice, called alternate wetting and drying, yielded water savings of approximately 192,793gallons/acre. The dry periods during alternate wetting and drying prevented the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in the rice fields, thus reducing the methane emissions by a total of 5,296 metric tons of CO2, equivalent to the annual emissions of 1,151 passenger vehicles.
Additionally, enrolled rice farmers saved nearly 250,000 pounds of nitrogen. Average nitrogen use across the five rice-growing states in the US is 174 lbs/acre. In the Midsouth, the regional average is 190 lbs/acre. Rice farmers in the partnership average djust 149.4 lbs/acres of nitrogen applications over the 2019 season.
Water conservation through the program helps the Arkansas region conserve its aquifers while decreasing nitrogen usage leads to reduced nutrient pollution of water bodies. Reducing methane emissions decreases the carbon footprint of beer production at Anheuser-Busch.
This past memorial day weekend, Indigo Agriculture transported more than 53,000bushels of rice for an Identity Preserved Beer Day to Anheuser-Busch's Jonesboro mill. The milling experiment, a first for Anheuser-Busch, entailed calibrating the facility to a single variety of grain, allowing further insights into the energy, time, and cost savings potential of an optimized milling process.
Regrow (formerly Dagan) and Applied GeoSolutions collaborated with Indigo Agriculture to run DeNitrification DeComposition (DNDC) model, now a part of the FluroSense Carbon module, to estimate methane emissions using data collected on-farm, organized and processed by Indigo Agriculture and delivered to them through an engineered pipeline. Indigo Agriculture's field agronomists verified and collected the data, saving farmers the time and effort it usually takes to complete data entry, collection, and processing at this scale.
Anheuser-Busch, Indigo Agriculture, and Regrow brainstormed during the season to create a sustainability protocol that would be easily implementable in each field by the rice farmers. This involved developing easy-to-understand instructions on how to implement the program on the farm. Together, we developed an analysis protocol using the DNDC model that would not create a disadvantage for any of the farmers enrolled in the program. We realized that every farmer was unique with different soils and weather. As a result, each farmer would have a different emission profile.
Regrow leveraged their customized DNDC platform, developed over 20 years, to calculate the baseline methane emissions from the enrolled fields if the farmers had not followed any of the conservation practices. The difference between the baseline emissions and the actual in-season estimates resulting from practices that the farmers implemented gave us the emissions reductions from each farm. We thus leveled the playing field for every farmer in the program, that ensured that each farm was able to make meaningful contributions to all three goals of the program.
This coming year, our partnership will include additional advanced data collection methods in the field to extend our capacities. Indigo is planning to introduce water sensors to augment the irrigation notebooks from last season, and a mobile app to enhance in-field data collection.
The partnership was awarded 2020 TECHe Award by the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment (E&E).
Together, the partnership looks forward to continuing on its second year of supporting, and enabling sustainability in rice production in the Arkansas region, and expanding outreach to even more farmers in the area.