Malting barley trade association launches sustainability task force

Malting barley has long been a favorable rotational crop for farmers, providing often unquantified benefits to the soil and cropping system. In fact, it’s what keeps barley in the rotation for many farmers. Nonetheless, barley production contributes significantly to the overall carbon footprint of beer and spirits. There is an increasing demand for beverage companies to account for that impact and find ways to reduce emissions. 

This call prompted the American Malting Barley Association (AMBA), a trade organization representing the interests of end users of malting barley, including maltsters, brewers, distillers, and food processors, to launch a Sustainability Task Force. This task force, first meeting on December 1, 2022, sought to rally industry leaders around a core message and purpose to prove and improve the sustainable nature of the crop. Over two dozen representatives from AMBA member companies came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities that face malting barley production. 

The primary goal of this work was to organize and prioritize efforts, informed by members and led by AMBA staff, that could be shared at their upcoming joint meeting with the National Barley Growers Association in June 2023. Participants acknowledged that this work can only be accomplished when we work together and that when approaching farmers, consistent messaging and aligned desires are necessary to ensure farmers continue growing this valuable crop. Other motivations for engagement included better understanding needs around sustainability up and downstream in the supply chain; identifying the most efficient approaches to meeting often ambitious targets; and how best to ensure high-quality barley into the future, acknowledging great threats that exist on the landscape. 

Themes discussed during this initial meeting included:

  • Defining metrics that can be used to determine a baseline and be monitored into the future to track progress. Having an established set of metrics not only allows the industry to communicate the positive qualities of barley, but to also illustrate improvements by the industry to strengthen the environmental benefits of barley production. 
  • Exploring malting barley’s role in regenerative agriculture. Opportunities exist to promote utilization of barley in cropping systems, especially when fall planted (winter varieties) are leveraged to provide continuous living cover over the soil. Establishing regenerative, best practices for barley are critical to leverage these opportunities. 
  • Greater research investment is needed to support future sustainable barley production. Evolving stressors related to climate change threaten barley production and developing new varieties that are resilient to these changes is necessary.

AMBA’s Sustainability Task Force will continue to meet to refine strategies and align efforts with other industry partners and stakeholders with the intended goal to develop a work plan that will guide sustainability focused work for the organization. AMBA looks forward to sharing success stories of how barley has helped the industry meet and or exceed sustainability goals.