Re-Gen-Ale Highlights New Opportunities for Sustainable Commodities

East coast brewery partners with farmer for a carbon-friendly brew that benefits the environment and farmer's bottom line. ( Dogfish Head )

Building trust in food begins with empowering farmers through one of the largest and most diverse conservation- and sustainability-focused public-private partnerships in our nation’s history: America’s Conservation Ag Movement.

A focus on conservation has long been a hallmark of American agriculture (learn more). But there’s much more to be done – and new ways to do it. In cooperation with the Farm Journal Foundation, a wide variety of conservation NGOs, and public and private entities, the initiative deploys extensive nationwide outreach and education –empowering farmers to adopt profitable conservation and stewardship practices on their farms. Click here to read more about the partnership.

Since 1876, Doug Keesling and his family have farmed along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas. Located near Chase, Kansas, the fifth-generation farm has grown from a small operation, to a multi-faceted regenerative farm.

“I’m right in the geological center of Kansas and farm around 3,000 acres,” Keesling says. In addition to wheat, corn, soybean and sorghum crops, he has a red angus cow-calf operation, sells seed and equipment, provides custom planting and planting services and hauls and spreads chicken and beef manure for hire.

Diversifying his operation and including manure management put him on the road to regenerative agriculture. Today these practices provide him with premiums and new commodity sales potential.

“Regenerative to me to is rejuvenate or to make the soil better,” he says.

Today he’s partnering with new buyers in Delaware who will pay more for products produced through sustainable methods—that can be proven.

“We’ve had an interest in exploring more sustainable, more local and more environmentally friendly ways to make our beers for a long time,” says Sam Calagione, founder and brewer at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware. Using Keesling’s regeneratively grown Kansas wheat, Calagione created Regen Ale, which will be exclusively sold in the Delaware area.

Specifically, these are the regenerative practices he uses:

  • No-till
  • Cover crops
  • Precision organic manure application
  • Diverse rotations

The consumer’s push for more sustainability in farming is forcing food companies to gather new types of data, says Emily Johannes, director of sustainability for K•Coe Isom. It’s no longer just about cost; companies are looking at operational data and use.

While Keesling couldn’t provide specifics, he explained that traceability in regenerative practices and connecting with the right buyers has earned him anywhere from 10% to 100% premiums for his commodities. He uses Indigo Ag’s Marketplace to connect with non-local buyers and Indigo Ag transportation services to send commodities via truck when they’re farther away than he wants to drive—like Delaware.

“Dogfish Head come to us with the idea of being able to trace the grain that they were purchasing to a specific farm that grows the grain in a specific way to work toward a more sustainable supply chain for the beer they produce,” says Ben Allen, Indigo Ag head of global market development. “We are the facilitator—we found the grain grower and connected Dogfish Head to him.”

Re-Gen-Ale is a wheat-based beer and aptly considered a farmhouse-style ale. It’s just over 5% ABV and has a “soft, pillowy malted wheat character with a subtle peppery herbal note,” Calagione says.

Dogfish Head chose a wheat beer, rather than use a barley-based recipe, because there is more regenerative wheat available than barley and they could scale-up the beer’s production if demand calls for it. If they were to reach nationwide production, they’d need about 10,000 barrels or 31,000 gallons of beer—so a lot more regenerative wheat.

Use beer to tell ag’s story

Farmers care deeply about the land they farm—but that’s not always common knowledge. Keesling wants to use the megaphone he received from partnering with an east-coast brewery to tell the positive story of ag.

“I wanted to partner with someone that can help agriculturalists tell their story,” he says. “Farmers are environmentalist and want to do right by the environment. As society gets more and more removed from the farm it’s really important to partner and tell this story.”

Consumers are demanding it, too. They want to know how food is grown and raised and what practices are employed, including fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs.