Plzeňský Prazdroj is launching a brand new initiative to support Czech brewing barley. Barley is an essential ingredient for brewing beer and its quality has been negatively impacted by climate change and weather fluctuations in recent years. A scientific and research project called For Barley, run by the Czech University of Life Sciences, Mendel University, JTZE and other partners, is based on a combination of regenerative farming methods and the use of state-of-the-art measuring technology. Its goal is to ensure sufficient nutrients and irrigation for barley, increase its resistance, and help farmers stabilize its yields.
The growing area of brewing barley in Czechia has fallen by almost a half in the past 30 years and now makes up about 7% of the total area of arable land in the Czech Republic. Barley has become an at-risk crop for farmers in recent decades due to the impact of climate change. If the weather is not favourable and the barley does not meet the strict demands of the brewing industry, farmers are forced to sell it at a fraction of its price for feeding purposes. “Our goal is to help farmers stabilize the quality of barley and better anticipate yields for a longer period of time. This should be achieved via a shift from the conventional way of farming to regenerative farming methods that will return life to the soil. The key is to never leave fields empty and apply soil-friendly methods. This way, we will provide the necessary support, irrigation and nutrients to the plants. By increasing the resistance of soil and ensuring the quality of barley in the long term, we should stabilize and even increase the volume of production of malt, which represents an essential ingredient for Czech beer,” says Ivan Tučník, Prazdroj´s Sustainability Manager.
An essential crop not only for beer
Brewing barley is an important crop for all of Czech agriculture. It is grown on 192,393 hectares, which is 11 times more than Czech vineyards and 40 times more than Czech hop yards. The For Barley project has concluded its first growing season in three locations in the Vysočina, Hradec Králové and Central Czechia regions on the area of 213 hectares, which is more than 300 football fields. The project uses several regenerative farming methods. “The fields are sown or covered permanently to protect them from erosion and to loosen them with roots. We use a catch crop to protect the soil during the time between growing the main crop and to add nutritive substances to the soil. At the same time, we apply soil-friendly methods to erode it as little as possible and we do not disturb the soil with deep ploughing,” explains Tomáš Sojka, an agronomist from the farming group JTZE which has provided areas close to Jihlava and Hradec Králové for the project.
This method should lead to an increase in organic matter in the soil, which will be positively reflected in the quality of the brewing barley. “The roots in the soil will contribute to better absorption of precipitation. Water will not drain away during torrential rains and will remain available for plants. Because organic matter helps change the structure of soil which is loosened better and is able to soak up a huge amount of water. This is important as we will be facing more weather extremes and droughts in the near future, and we will have to keep water in the soil for a longer period,” says Vojtěch Lukas from the Department of Agrosystems and Bioclimatology of the Mendel University in Brno.
The increase in the share of organic matter in the soil will also mean we will have to use less industrial fertilizer than today. “On top of that, regenerative farming methods help retain carbon absorbed in the soil by plants from the atmosphere, thus helping fight climate change,” adds Ivan Tučník.
The participating fields apply the same sowing method as they did before. “We have not changed the crops we grow, only the way we grow them. We apply a sowing method based on four plants. That is why we have divided the research area into smaller parts, and we grow all the plants included in the sowing plan, including barley, every year,” adds Jiří Zajíček, Director of Farms of the Czech University of Life Sciences. “In the project, we have used varieties of brewing barley that are suitable for the protected geographical indication Czech beer, and that we expect to be resistant even in a climate impacted by the changes coming in the next decade,” says Zdeněk Šonšký from the company Limgrain, a seed stock supplier.
Five years of measurements
The areas where the experimental growing of barley takes place have been selected by scientists in such a way that they include several different agricultural areas in Czechia to ensure the biggest diversity of climate and soil types possible. Thanks to this, the findings from the project will be applicable for other farmers around Czechia. The project should bring results in about five years, during which scientists will compare data from regenerative farming areas with data from areas applying conventional farming methods in the course of the project. The data is collected on a continuous basis from weather stations, soil probes for measuring soil temperature and humidity, from satellite images provided by the company CleverFarm, or from remote monitoring of vegetation via drones. The nutritive substances and the content of organic matter will be analysed by the Postoloprty laboratory.
“We measure soil parameters and the amount of nutrients in the plants. We also monitor the impact of the weather on growing barley and catch crops. And we will assess the impact of the catch crops from the perspective of the biomass they produce. This way, we will find out how the state of the soil and the condition of the plants change using regenerative farming principles compared to conventional farming. All of this with the aim of achieving adequate yields of barley of high brewing quality,” says David Bečka from the Department of Agroecology and Crop Production of the Czech University of Life Sciences.
When evaluating the project, scientists will put emphasis not only on the yield of barley, but also on the yields of other crops in the fields. The determining factor analysed by the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting will be parameters influencing the quality of barley supplied by farmers to malthouses and breweries in the Czech Republic.
Barley in pubs
To draw attention to the significance of barley and to the project which aims to stabilize its quality, Prazdroj offers a beer special in a thousand pubs as part of its Brewers´ Choice programme. In February, people can enjoy a draught beer called JEČ-MAN (Barleyman) brewed from the barley from the farms participating in the project. “We want to show beer lovers that barley is a hero and a vital ingredient for Czech beer. It defines the taste and colour of the beer. That is why we have brewed this Bock-style special which is very malty. Thanks to the Pilsner and caramel malts used in it, JEČ-MAN has a pleasantly full character. It is a stronger, bottom-fermented beer that goes down really well in winter months,” says Tomáš Drahoňovský, manager of the Brewers´ Choice programme.
Notes for editors
- Prazdroj uses barley from 140 farmers from Czechia, and buys about 150,000 tonnes of barley every year, which represents an area of roughly 30,000 hectares. The company buys the absolute majority of barley straight from the farmers, without any middlemen. The activity focused on the use of regenerative farming methods when growing barley also plays a significant landscaping role.
- Without quality domestic barley, Czech beer would not have become a legend. Brewing barley from Czech and Moravian fields is a vital ingredient we use to brew Czech beer in breweries. Climate change and ever more frequent weather fluctuations represent a threat to barley and its growers. That is why Plzeňský Prazdroj has come up with a new initiative that should help maintain its quality for the future thanks to more soil-friendly treatment. Supervised by experts, we have planted catch crops in selected fields with barley that return nutritive substances to the soil and retain water in it. The condition of farms is measured using state-of-the-art technology. This is a huge challenge – seven percent of arable land in Czechia is used to grow barley. The use of regenerative farming principles on such a big area, represented by the FOR BARLEY project, has the ambition to become the biggest initiative to cultivate arable land in the Czech Republic so far.
- Two Czech universities have joined the project. A scientific partner of the project is the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, specifically the team of Doctor David Bečka from the Department of Agroecology and Crop Production, and the Mendel University in Brno with the team of Associate Professor Vojtěch Lukas from the Department of Agrosystems and Bioclimatology.
- The agricultural partners of the project are the farming group JTZE – the group provided areas in two of its enterprises close to Jihlava and Hradec Králové, and the Farms of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Červený Újezd.
- Another important partner is the Postoloprty Laboratory, a laboratory accredited for soil and crop analyses. The universities together with the laboratory have created a methodology for the whole project.
- The Limgarin company, a breeder of varieties of brewing barley, is also a partner of the project and has provided the necessary brewing barley seeds.
- The technological support of the project, a platform for data analysis and devices for taking measurements in farms, are provided by the company CleverFarm.
- Detailed analyses of barley, especially focused on its malting quality, will be provided by the Research Institute of Brewing and Malting in Brno.
- The project compares areas using regenerative farming to areas that employ conventional methods. All the locations use a sowing process based on four crops, including brewing barley, and there are at least eight testing areas on each farm. If the nature of the crops allows it, we plant catch crops between the main crops on the regenerative farms.
- In the Farms of the Czech University of Life Sciences in Červený Újezd, we grow spring barley, rape oil, wheat and peas on a total area of 53 hectares. On the Rolana farm owned by the JTZE group close to Hradec Králové, we grow barley, rape oil, wheat and sugar beet on a total area of 89 hectares. In the Eurofarms enterprises of the JTZE group close to Jihlava, we grow barley, wheat, rape oil and poppy on a total area of almost 75 hectares.