BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — Most people don’t think of Anheuser-Busch as an agricultural company.
“Around the world we work with about 50,000 farmers,” said Angie Slaughter, vice president procurement for Anheuser-Busch InBev.
The company purchases barley, rice and hops from farmers.
“We buy more than 30 million bushels of barley from Montana, North Dakota and Idaho,” Slaughter said during a presentation at the 2018 WILL Ag Farm Assets Conference.
“We are the largest end user of rice in the U.S., and we buy 17 million bushels of long grain rough rice from 25 direct growers.”
About 3.8 million pounds of hops are purchased from 31 growers mostly in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, reported Slaughter, who grew up in southern Illinois.
The company’s primary location for malt production is in Idaho Falls, Idaho, where about 18 million bushels of malt are produced. The Moorhead Malt Plant is in Minnesota, and the company operates a rice mill in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
“At our global research facility in Fort Collins, Colorado, we’ve done more than 30 years of barley variety research,” said Slaughter, who has been with the company for 20 years.
“We have over 100 agronomists on our team globally that work to bring the right technology and so our growers want to be a long-term sustainable grower in our family,” she said.
“We contract annually so growers have a choice, and they don’t have to grow barley for Anheuser-Busch,” she said.
“We want to foster that relationship and make sure they are as productive as they can be.”
The company’s SmartBarley tool is about making sure farmers are connected to each other and they have the ability to benchmark.
“It looks at key performance indicators and the data is given to our grower family so they can make choices and change things in their operation,” Slaughter said.
“Tools have to be user friendly and easy to use,” she said. “We get feedback from our growers to make improvements and to make sure it’s something they will use to improve their operation.
“Our vision is growing better together with a secure ag supply chain and lead globally by creating shared economic value,” Slaughter said.
AgriEdge Excelsior is a program offered by Syngenta that provides a whole farm solution from crop protection to yields to data collection for end users.
The program has five elements – agronomics, stewardship, service, economics and technology, said Brad Allen, AgriEdge specialist for Syngenta.
“This program was built by farmers for farmers,” he said during his presentation.
“It’s a cloud-based system, so if I’m doing data entry on my laptop, someone in the field can use his iPad and pull up any recommendations instantaneously,” he explained. “This is about field profitability so we want to make the data transition easy.”
The program assists farmers with crop planning.
“We pull all inputs in including seed costs and run a breakeven analysis,” Allen said. “We have over 14,000 products in the data base.”
Lots of reports are available to farmers from the AgriEdge Excelsior.
“The data is collected by field, so we know what’s there and what’s been applied on the fields,” Allen said. “And with yield reports we can look at profitability at a field level.”
Farmers can look at their operation on a field level compared to state averages.
“We as farmers are sustainable and environmentally conscious, we just don’t have a loud voice,” Allen said. “You can use this program to show your numbers, what you are doing on your farm and your fields to show sustainability.”
Clarkson Grain Co. contracts with growers for specific crops or specific users prior to planting.
“It’s all about preserving the identity of the crop from the time you buy the seed to the time it is delivered to our customers that may be domestic or in Japan or Korea,” said Ken Dallmier, president and COO of Clarkson Grain Co.
Since farmers produce a huge amount of supply, Dallmier said, it’s about focusing on increasing demand.
“The first thing we have to remember is commodity markets have always been the soft weapons of nations and this isn’t knew,” he said. “Many of us remember the grain embargos of the ‘70s and ‘80s and these embargos have very long tails. The effect of the ‘70s and ‘80s embargos lasted until 2012-2013.”
Diversity, Dallmier said, allows pivot.
“If all you do is corn and beans and something hiccups, you have an issue,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it’s about quality, reliability and transparency that provides opportunity,” said Dallmier, who grew up on a family farm that grew seed corn. “Transparency for a growing global middle class in Asia, Africa and even in the U.S.”
Companies are using brands to make transparency claims to satisfy social values, Dallmier said, and millennials support brands that support their social values.
Process efficiency is also driving opportunity for farmers.
“The biggest variable for a processor is every load is different of the product coming in the front door and then they have a hard time making a standard product,” Dallmier said.
For farmers to participate in identity preservation, they need management, on-farm storage and commitment.
“Every load is the same thing, that’s what the companies are after,” Dallmier said. “One variety from a single region going to a single source, that’s what the market is screaming for us to do.”