Better Barley, Better Beer

10 Dec 14

10_12 -- Blog -- Barley

SAB's pioneering initiatives in developing more sustainable agricultural practices for barley.

You may have noticed the great investment that SAB has recently made in the local South African barley market: The Go Farming initiative invests in equipping local farmers to enter the commercial market, and the new Alrode maltings plant, is three times larger than its predecessor. Better Barley Better Beer (BBBB) is another groundbreaking initiative which is working with farmers, researchers and the World Wildlife Fund to optimise sustainability practices across the barley farms.

Currently about 95% of SAB's barley suppliers are South African commercial farmers, who reside mainly in the Northern and Western Cape  provinces. BBBB was introduced to encourage more sustainable farming within the supply chain and addresses:

  • water reduction
  • improved carbon footprints
  • soil health
  • clearing of alien vegetation

“The guidelines are designed to empower the barley farmer to make the right decisions today to ensure the sustainable production of local barley into the future, ” says Thinus van Schoor, General Manager SAB Maltings.



Working with rain water

In the "dry lands" areas around Taung where farmers largely rely on rain water, the BBBB programme sets to monitor natural factors in order to optimise crop yield. This pilot initiative includes rainfall and temperature monitoring, which is then linked to water use. Water usage is also measured, ensuring that precious water resources are used sustainably and nothing is wasted.

Working with irrigation

In areas where farmers rely on irrigation to water their crops, the BBBB programme is more focused on optimising irrigation processes. This is being done through a partnership with the University of the Free State, where watering schedules are being researched and developed especially for barley. The process is driving down water use without sacrificing on yield or quality. In fact, the yields and quality improved through optimisation of the irrigation. Technology is also playing a role in water management as cellphone applications can now assist farmers in knowing when and for how long to irrigate.

Water rights

Farmers using irrigation must source their water somewhere, be it from a borehole, river or dam. This is where water rights come into play. The BBBB programme officers assist farmers in navigating water legislation, getting all their paperwork in place and complying with local legislation. Further to this, farmers are encouraged to participate in their local water forum by linking up with the local water bodies.

A water savings measure of about 40% shows that the programme is indeed on the right track.



BBBB is paving the way in developing tools that allow farmers to measure their carbon footprint, and thus conscientiously reduce this toll on the environment. A unique tool is currently being tested by local commercial and small-scale farmers which will help them determine their carbon-producing expenses like fuel usage, electricity usage (especially for irrigation), fertilisers and chemicals. By measuring these elements farmers can track their progress and set goals for more sustainable and low-carbon farming.



Good soil management takes time, but can have very positive results where water saving and healthy crops are concerned. With better soil management, more water can be captured in the soil. Many of the BBBB dry-land farmers are nurturing soil health by using minimum-till or no-till planting techniques. These changes in agricultural practices are having an effect on the water scenario.

"It takes time, but with better farming practices we're seeing results in soil and barley quality and improved yields, " notes Coetzee.



In supporting biodiversity of the indigenous environment, the BBBB programme is addressing invader weed issues. A pilot project on the SAB farm in Caledon involves an alien-clearing scheme which aims to eradicate all non-indigenous invader plants from the natural environment. Once this project is completed we intend to use the example to encourage further alien vegetation clearing on other farms in the BBBB network.


Looking ahead

Better Barley Better Beer allows SAB to build on its strategic business objective to help grow the local barley industry and secure its future growth and sustainability. This is in line with South Africa’s strategic plan for sustainable agriculture and the Department of Agriculture’s policy for sustainable development. The  programme has proven its worth, and is now being tailored and translated for SAB's emerging farmers to implement in 2015.


BBBB is an important element of SAB’s global sustainable development framework called Prosper. Read more about our sustainability initiatives on SAB Stories.