Since 2009, MillerCoors, a joint venture of SABMiller and Molson Coors in the United States, has been working in partnership with NGOs, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Sand County Foundation in two watersheds in the United States to engage farmers in addressing water issues. While bringing benefits to the farmers and other water users, these initiatives have also helped reduce water risks for MillerCoors business.
Assessing water impacts and water risks
Water footprinting studies conducted by MillerCoors showed that more than 95 % of the total water used to produce beer comes from the agricultural supply chain, including growing malt, barley, hops and corn. Reducing the impact of the supply chain is therefore central to MillerCoors water strategy. Read more about MillerCoors Water Strategy here.
MillerCoors has also conducted watershed vulnerability analyses aimed at identifying risks over the next ten years for the eight watersheds that serve MillerCoors largest breweries. Background research was conducted for each brewery to capture the physical, regulatory and social aspects of water-related business risk. The analysis focused on the following areas: brewery water use and demand; water availability and reliability; climate change; water quality; wastewater treatment and discharge; regulatory pressure; water cost; and social and media sensitivities. The results have established a baseline for aggregated knowledge and identified potential actions to help mitigate or understand risks.
Reducing water in the Idaho supply chain
In 2009, MillerCoors established a strategic partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to help landowners and farmers in the Silver Creek Preserve, Idaho, enhance the watershed by improving water management practices. Silver Creek is a region where MillerCoors sources some of its highest quality barley, so the partnership was a natural fit. Idaho is a leading producer of malting barley and barley cultivation requires a significant amount of water.
Together, MillerCoors and TNC developed a Showcase Barley Farm to demonstrate how water conservation efforts benefit the farmer and the environment. For example, a combination of mechanical and technological enhancements made to water pivots, including the installation of smart panels, sprinkler packages and end gun removal, resulted in substantial savings.
In 2011, it is estimated the farm saved approximately 9 % of water, which is considerable for a farm that uses more than a billion gallons each season. Estimates suggest that final energy savings for 2011 could reach 20 %, which is also a major savings achievement on a farm that spends more than $120,000 annually on power to pump water. These actions will improve water and energy efficiency and positively impact water quality in the region.
Recognizing the power of peer-to-peer education, land owners, farmers and others tour the showcase farm, and many have committed to implementing some or all of the water management best practices on their own farms. By working with TNC and barley farmers in Silver Creek, MillerCoors has an opportunity to positively influence its supply chain partners and the resources necessary for the sustainability of the business.
TNC and MillerCoors plan to expand on these efforts. Specifically, they are developing a “landscape atlas” that will document the best management practices implemented on the showcase farm and throughout the Silver Creek Preserve to serve as a learning tool for other landowners and farmers in the region.
Working with landowners to initiate sustainable water practices in Texas
Most precipitation in the U.S. falls on private land, which is used to produce the food, fiber and ecosystem services on which we rely. Therefore, MillerCoors works with the Sand County Foundation, a private, non-profit conservation group dedicated to working with private landowners to improve natural habitat on their land. MillerCoors supports the organization’s Water As A Crop™ initiative, which works with landowners and farmers along the Trinity River, the main source of water for the MillerCoors Fort Worth brewery.
The Trinity River Basin provides the water supply and drinking water for approximately 40 % of all Texans, making management of these waterways essential for the entire region. The river frequently suffers from drought, and the water supply is sometimes unable to meet the demand of eight million residents. When landowners begin to think about water as a commodity to be produced and understand how their practices affect residents and businesses downstream, they can have a significant, positive impact on water quality and quantity.
The Water As A Crop™ program empowers and educates landowners to assess their current approaches and adopt more sustainable water practices through interactive workshops and pilot projects. It has brought together local landowners who collectively hold more than 1,000 contiguous acres along the Trinity River and financially incentivized them to adopt land-use practices that will keep riverbanks intact and slow erosion from grazing and flooding. These practices include controlling intensive grazing by using cross fencing for cattle, replanting native prairie grass, and protecting tributary creeks that feed the river.
The program is free to participating landowners. In order to continue protecting and serving its eight brewery communities and local watersheds, MillerCoors plans to develop mitigation plans for each of its three watersheds that have been identified as scarce or stressed.