A World First For SA Barley Farmers

12 May 15

SAB and local farmers revolutionise barley farmingThe Precision Irrigation of Barley Project

Thanks to a groundbreaking programme involving SAB and local farmers, the barley industry is becoming more water efficient. The Precision Irrigation of Barley Project is proving that a simple innovation can mean better barley in both production and financial terms, which is empowering for local farmers.


Making more beer using less water

Agriculture is water intensive, with 84% of the water used to make one litre of beer being utilised on  crops. Much of this water is used for irrigation and that’s where the Precision Irrigation of Barley Project comes in. One of our key sustainability focuses is around water. As part of our Prosper goals for 2020 we aim to secure shared water resources for our business and the communities in which we operate.


Getting science involved

Globally there was a lack of scientific data around this subject of barley irrigation. This is where our agricultural scientists were involved. They combined shared learnings and experience with scientific and biological principles to develop a twofold solution:

  • A computer programme: This simple programme is usable by farmers to scientifically schedule irrigation
  • A crop factor for barley: This measurement identifies the proportion of evaporation that must be replaced with irrigation for a crop to produce a commercial yield


Working with local farmers

Key to the success of this project was getting the buy-in and commitment of local barley producers.

Benefits to farmers, communities and the country as a whole include:

  • Social – empowered farmers
  • Environmental – less water used means that more remains in the water table
  • Financial – lowered production costs and reduced water levels meant less electricity was needed to sustain the irrigation process

SAB -- Irrigation -- infographic (1)


Results that speak for themselves

In its first year of operation in 2012 the Precision Irrigation of Barley Project saved 48% more water than its previous year. This means that 19 234 million hectolitres of water were saved in 2012.

In the dry, arid regions of the Northern Cape there are 290 barley producers and 120 small-scale farmers who are now benefiting from this scheme.

Initially the project involved three barley producers in the Northern Cape on different scales. Currently 85% of the barley farmers in the irrigation areas are on the preliminary programme of the Precision Irrigation of Barley Project. The next phase, the formal rollout of the programme through PC-software, will take place during the 2015 barley season.


Do you think this project has the potential to make a positive impact on our water consumption on a larger scale? Share your comments below.

Find out more about making more beer with less water on SAB Stories’ Sustainability section.