Sustainable Beer by 2025? AB InBev Partners with Ag Biotech Startup BHB to Optimize Barley Production

January 29, 2019

Crop genetics discovery and gene-editing platform startup Benson Hill Biosystems is partnering with Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), the world’s leading brewer, to develop improved barley varieties using Benson Hill’s computational platform Breed powered by its CropOS technology.

Through the partnership, AB InBev is hoping to equip farmers with more productive and sustainable barley varieties. Recent reports have highlighted the sensitivity of barley to extreme heat and drought, underscoring the importance of developing varieties with greater resilience to climate change. AB InBev will use Benson Hill’s Breed application in combination with traditional breeding methods to help accelerate the development of higher yielding barley varieties that use less water and other natural resources.  

Benson Hill’s CropOS identifies promising genetics for any targeted outcome from higher yield to environmental sustainability or enhanced nutrition. The platform’s machine learning capability calibrates and evolves with each field trial and data set, improving its predictive capability to accelerate product development. Based St. Louis, the startup raised a $60 million Series C led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) in September 2018 a year after it launched CRISPR 3.0, a new gene editing tool. It’s total VC funding to date is just shy of $100 million.

“AB InBev recognizes the power of plants and innovation to benefit both farmers and consumers,” said Matt Crisp, CEO and co-founder of Benson Hill, in a press release announcing the partnership. “The Benson Hill team is eager to apply the predictive power of CropOS to AB InBev’s SmartBarley program and rapidly advance its breeding efforts.”

Sustainable Beer by 2025

As part of its 2025 Sustainability Goals, AB InBev has launched SmartBarley, an innovation platform that utilizes data, technology, and insights to help barley farmers in the AB InBev supply chain improve the productivity and environmental performance of their farms. Launched in 2013, SmartBarley leverages data technology and insights to help farmers solve challenges and improve their productivity and environmental performance. That platform enables farmers to benchmark their progress and share best practices across our global farmer network. More than 5,000 farmers have participated in SmartBarley so far.

The data gathered through SmartBarley helps to identify gaps and opportunities, which are addressed through a portfolio of agronomic, environmental and management initiatives. SmartBarley data showed that many farmers in Mexico tend to over-apply fertilizer, which increases cost and has a negative impact on the environment. AB InBev’s teams are working with farmers to optimize nitrogen use through targeted crop management trials and technology as a result of this discovery.

“For AB InBev, brewing quality beer starts with the best ingredients. That requires a healthy environment and thriving communities,” said Gary Hanning, global director of barley research at AB InBev, in a press release announcing the partnership. “Benson Hill’s powerful Breed application positions us at the forefront of innovation to develop more resilient and sustainable varieties of barley for growers and the best quality malt for our brewers.”

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