Beer and climate change made headlines recently when a study was published on how hotter, drier summers could affect its price and taste. The study found that increasing temperatures are not only reducing the number of hops being produced across Europe, but fundamentally changing their taste profiles, raising fears that beer’s flavour would change.
This was an engaging, novel angle, but it missed the commercial risk that the study revealed. Failure to adapt will leave companies unable to source the crops they need to make the products we all love to eat and drink.
Moreover, it showed climate change’s devastating effect on farming communities. Whole villages and regions that have been built on the income provided by farming now face having their livelihoods compromised.
In recent years, regenerative agriculture has become the buzzword for the industry’s future. Yet, for many farmers, its practicalities feel hard to adopt. However, if we can implement it, the effect could be transformational.
How does beer impact the environment?
If the industry is serious about turning regenerative agriculture from a buzzword into a reality, there are three changes to make:
- Collect reliable data, using validated methods
- Enable co-operation between farmers, landowners, and food & beverage companies
- Enable collaboration between companies
With many processes being, by their nature, experimental, the first step to developing efficient regenerative practices is gathering data we can trust and learn from. At Diageo, we are working with Agricarbon to measure soil carbon stock changes and the impact of our efforts across our regenerative agriculture programmes.
We are also looking to identify where we can optimise resources and costs. We know from an assessment conducted across 44 farms in Ireland that 75% of the carbon footprint of barley production is generated by nitrogen fertilisers. That is why our Guinness programme is focused on achieving a 30% reduction in emissions through implementation of low-carbon fertilisers and cover crops in the first phase. With only 49% of nitrogen applied in European farming systems currently being recovered, this also presents a significant opportunity to drive efficiencies in the system.
Once more data and evidence from regenerative farms and trials comes through farmers, landowners, supply aggregators and food and beverage companies will need to work together to design solutions they can scale commercially.
Scratching the surface of regenerative agriculture’s potential
Too often, companies speak of regenerative agriculture as if it can be enforced upon farmers, when its success is dependent on all groups working together. Its impact is also mutually beneficial, helping farmers to adapt to changing climates and making crops more resilient.
Yet, truthfully, we are only scratching the surface of regenerative agriculture’s potential. The technologies and frameworks for the collection, analysis, and reporting of data to help assess the impacts of different practices are still relatively immature and it is crucial that organisations collaborate to accelerate innovation in this space.
More broadly, there have been positive steps toward greater collaboration, such as through the Landscape Enterprise Networks (LENs), a system for organising the buying and selling of nature-based solutions. But our efforts will remain a drop in the ocean until we achieve collaboration on a scale that will drive changes in legislation.
Much of the debate at COP28 is set to focus on climate resilience and adaptation. With these three steps, regenerative agriculture can be central to these efforts, helping to reduce environmental impact, protect the industry’s future and secure the livelihoods of farmers.