Whether or not you’re a fan of beer, it’s impossible to deny how universally popular beer is in social circles around the globe. Even so, it never occurred to me to reflect on how much of an international celebrity beer is until I began a world tour of barley fields, generously hosted by AB InBev's local agronomists. In each of the 4 countries I visited on three continents, I was impressed by how dedicated the agronomists were to supporting their barley growers to help them produce consistently high quality malting barley. Of course, my trip would have been incomplete without tasting the finished product and the local teams were happy to oblige. Without exception, the local favorite brew was the perfect finish to a day of talking barley.
Agrible’s Role in Barley Production:
A little bit of backstory is probably necessary in order to understand why Agrible would send somebody halfway across the globe to visit barley fields. Agrible is working with Anheuser Busch InBev (AB InBev) to help them accomplish their goal of empowering farmers with the tools they need to be sustainable through improved agronomic practices. Eventually, Agrible’s tools will be available to AB InBev farmers in South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. As a first step, I was invited to visit with AB InBev’s local agronomy teams to train them on Agrible’s website and learn how we can support their efforts to give their growers the tools they need to grow the best barley possible using sustainable practices.
Agricultural areas are refreshingly “non-touristy” and the road from Guanajuato to Salamanca provided a raw and unfiltered landscape of local commerce and agriculture. I was struck by the number of roadside stands offering every conceivable edible “con fresas” (with strawberries) and it wasn’t until several days later that I found out the Guanajuato region is the strawberry capital of the world. I’ll reserve validation of that claim for those who have visited more than 1 strawberry region but the fresh strawberries I enjoyed certainly don’t contradict the local claim and pride in their local produce is warranted.
Despite the ever-present distraction of my favorite fruit, barley was the crop of interest. The local Grupo Modelo agronomy team is as invested in their barley plots as any farmer I’ve met. These plots served as the location for their Growers Day, which they generously invited me to. The morning was spent touring the plots with specialists at every station demonstrating numerous trials focused on refining local practices. These included various nutrient application rates and timing and various seed and treatment chemicals. Lunch included gorditas, which are completely different from the sort we have in the States advertised by a certain famous Chihuahua. After lunch, we were treated to traditional performances by a group of young dancers.
The following day, I trained the local agronomy team on Agrible’s software. The potential impact our tools could have on their efforts to improve grower efficiency and productivity was immediately evident. Their enthusiasm has endured; it’s going to be very exciting to see our software in action in a new country.
Uruguay and Brazil
I’m no anthropologist but I would venture that as long as people have cooked their food, they have gathered around a fire. It’s certainly no exaggeration to say that beer has become as synonymous with barbeque as fire. Uruguay’s local version of barbeque is called Asado and it translates as more than just “cooking stuff over flame”. It’s a full-on social ritual that can take hours to prepare. Much in the same way a brewmaster brings hops and barley together, an asado is often the combination of numerous meats and different cuts served as they come off the grill.
After our training session with agronomists from Uruguay and Argentina, we were offered a tour of the local malting facility which was a very impressive feat of science and engineering. The work and ingenuity required to produce significant quantities of quality malt is really quite an accomplishment. When the tour was over, I was treated to an asado consisting of a steady stream of roasted beef and chicken along with their Patricia lager.
Brazil was no less impressive. I was able to tag along to a presentation by the Brazilian agronomists for potential barley growers. I don’t speak any Portuguese but much of the information didn’t need translating. The challenges facing barley growers in that region included economic as well as environmental factors. As is often the case when trying to woo a potential business partner, barbeque and beer were important elements of the evening’s agenda.
After spending two consecutive nights sleeping on airplanes, getting to lie down on a real bed was simply heavenly. Finding out the next day that Nelson Mandela has stayed in the same hotel just made the experience that much more interesting. On this trip, I was accompanied by Agrible co-founder, Bill Northcott, who knows a thing or two (to say the least…) about soil hydrology. Since South Africa grows barley in an irrigated region as well as a rainfed region, it was a fascinating trip for both of us. The irrigation system fed by the Orange River is an amazing network of concrete-lined canals and the South African agronomists that hosted us were able to get a tour of the facility that controls the entire system. We also visited the South African Barley Breeding Institute and got a very educational primer on how varieties are adapted for South African growing conditions.
Between our visits to the irrigated and rainfed areas we were taken on a miniature safari and enjoyed venison sausage brai-style: cooked over wood coals in a metal rack. The scenery was gorgeous and the wildlife was...well, pretty wild. We saw baboons, monkeys, buffalo, impala, malibu, Springbok and those are just the ones I could name easily.
One of the farmers we visited allowed us to try Pocket Drone Control™ over his cotton/corn pivot, which marks the first time our drone software has been used in the southern hemisphere. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to get a group shot with the drone. All the countries I visited were open and inviting and it’s exciting to see Agrible’s platform taking root in new places.