The company, in partnership with Regrow and Indigo Ag, saved 2 billion gallons of water and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 27%.
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.
In March 2019, the company partnered with Indigo Ag and Regrow to help Arkansas farmers grow rice sustainably. Indigo Ag recruited and helped farmers grow rice that used 10% less water and 10% less nitrogen compared to regional averages. Together, the two companies designed a protocol that would reduce methane emissions by 10%.
Rice production contributes to 35% of methane emissions globally. This first-of-its-kind partnership aimed to reduce those emissions and save natural resources, while making rice farming profitable for Arkansas producers.
The ultimate goal of the partnership was to help farmers sustainably grow rice, while empowering them with technology, research and the financial incentives to commit to sustainable practices. Through this partnership, Anheuser-Busch’s rice farmers practiced environmental responsibility, reduced the risks associated with specific conservation measures, and earned additional income for their environmental stewardship.
29 Arkansas rice farmers adopted several beneficial practices across 11,000 acres. Regrow used data collected by Indigo's agronomists, along with weather, soil, and remote sensing data to quantify reductions in methane emissions for each farmer. Anheuser-Busch guaranteed the farmers a premium for the sustainably-produced rice, which added profit to the rice and further incentivized these practices.
In just the first year, this collaboration enabled us to exceed shared environmental and sustainability goals. Enrolled 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 through their efforts.
Adopting these practices brought additional benefits, as well. On average, enrolled farmers saved between $17-27 in input costs per acre, with an average savings of $19 per acre.
Farmers earned these savings through the market premium established by Anheuser-Busch, and by shutting down wells, saving on water and electricity, growing conventional rather than hybrid varieties (which decreased wear and tear on farm equipment), reducing long-term production costs, and finally, by lowering the cost of fertilizer (reducing nitrogen applied to the crop).
Throughout the season, our rice farmers saved more than 2 billion gallons of water. These farmers used an average of 22.9 inches of water per acre over the course of the season, whereas the regional water use for an average rice farm in the area is 30 inches per acre.
Farmers achieved this by switching off wells for an average of 9 days. This conservation practice, called alternate wetting and drying, yielded water savings of approximately 192,793 gallons per acre. The dry periods during alternate wetting and drying prevented the anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in the rice fields, which reduced methane emissions by 5,296 metric tons.
That’s 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 per acre. In the Midsouth, the regional average is 190 lbs per acre. Rice farmers in the partnership averaged just 149.4 lbs per acre over the course of the season.
Regrow and Applied GeoSolutions collaborated with Indigo Agriculture to run the DeNitrification DeComposition (DNDC) model, now a part of the FluroSense carbon module, to estimate methane emissions using data collected on the farm and delivered to through an engineered pipeline.
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 mentioned above) that would not create a disadvantage for any of the farmers enrolled in the program.
Together, we recognized that every farmer in the program dealt with unique factors on their farms, like soils and weather. As a result, each farmer had a different emissions profile.
At Regrow, we leveraged our customized DNDC platform, which has been developed over 20 years, to calculate the baseline methane emissions from enrolled fields. Baseline emissions show what farmers’ emissions would be, if they had not followed any conservation practices.
The difference between the baseline emissions and the actual in-season estimates showed us the emissions reductions on each farm. We were then able to level the playing field for every farmer in the program, ensuring that each farm was able to make meaningful contributions to all three goals of the program.
This partnership was awarded the 2020 TECH Award by the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment (E&E).
Together, we look forward to continuing the program through another year of supporting and enabling sustainability in Arkansas rice production, and expanding outreach to even more farmers in the area.