With margins as tight as they are in production agriculture, creating value-added opportunities is a must in order to keep the family farm in the family. At the 2020 American Farm Bureau convention, Colorado farmer March Arnusch shared his journey to re-invent his operation by tapping into the trending craft beer and spirits industry. Here's what Scott learned from listening in to the session:
Farming in Colorado means that water is one of Marc’s most important assets. To Marc, adding value with the crops they raise means they add value to their water. If they don't, the water gets used elsewhere. They raised crops such as sugar beets, dry beans, and other produce until 2010. At that time a Listeria scare in cantaloupe melons raised near their farm crushed demand for the crops they raised. Now they grow whiskey and beer via seed wheat and barley that is shipped from coast to coast.
Antero is a white wheat variety developed by Colorado State University. Antero is a good agronomic fit for their region, giving them an advantage. The only problem, Marc said, is that it makes terrible bread. Marc was discussing this issue with Chris Schooley, Troubadour Maltings, and he suggested to work the equation backwards. Antero produces great yields and is good for Marc’s rotation, so what can we use it for? The answer was brewing. The properties that made it bad for bread, high protein, low gluten, make it great for malting.
Today, craft brewers want to know the same information about the farm that grows the grain they use for malt as consumers want to know about their food. This allows them to build a back-story regarding their beer that adds value. Small malting houses such as Chris Schooley’s Troubadour Maltings are the tie between local farmers and craft beer. Working together they create the narrative that consumers want to hear.
There are currently more than 70 small malt houses in the United States, with another 100 in development. Technology is aiding to this growth by making equipment more accessible and in helping to find grain varieties that make many types of beers that consumers want. This creates a demand for specialty grains that farmers can capitalize on.
The Grain Chain = communication and collaboration.
By listening to the consumer, the grower, malter and brewer can collaborate to grow and produce what is needed to meet demand.
Because of the farms’ work in the seed business for malt, Marc was able to bring his son, Brett, back to the operation. Brett takes the huge amount of data they collect on the farm, millions or billions of data points per year, and uses that to find key attributes for the grain they raise. There is a real opportunity to grow different grain varieties including heirloom varieties that have a specific attribute. In order to capitalize on this, the grower needs to be able to understand the protein and amylose content of grain they are producing and how that matches a need for buyers. This “grain chain” collaboration has helped a local distillery use their product to produce an award-winning Colorado Antero Wheat Whiskey which is grown, malted and distilled within a 30-mile radius of their farm.
Marc also serves on the Colorado Farm Bureau Federation board of directors. He views advocacy as part of the bottom line for his business. The beer and whiskey industry has opened new doors for Marc, allowing him to start a conversation about agriculture. He is able to reach an audience who wouldn’t normally listen and thus influence public opinion, build new markets and tell a better story for agriculture.