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Organic farming elbows through chips, soda for Super Bowl spot

Beer commercial to raise money to aid barley growers

Barley harvest in Reardan, Washington. (VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Barley harvest in Reardan, Washington. (VW Pics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Organic farmers will get a brief turn in the Super Bowl spotlight Sunday in a commercial that urges beer drinkers to buy more six-packs to help fund efforts to increase the number of certified organic acres in the United States.

The “6 For 6 Pack” ad tells suds lovers a share of money spent on a six-pack of Anheuser-Busch’s Michelob Ultra Pure Gold can help a farmer and convert six square feet of conventional cropland into six square feet of organic land. Michelob Ultra Pure Gold sports a Department of Agriculture certified organic seal. 

The 60-second ad focuses on grain farmers, which includes those who grow the barley used in the organic brew. The acres that produce certified organic fruits, vegetables, grains and feed constitute less than 1 percent of the nearly 915 million acres of U.S. farmland.

The USDA organic seal on food and ingredients can put a few more dollars in a farmer’s pocket if the grower can make it through the three-year period required to transition land used to raise crops with pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to acres that can be certified organic.

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The USDA considers the three-year transition a gold standard for certified organic food crops, but farmers have complained for years that meeting that standard is often a financial hardship.

A farmer who raises crops on the land during the three years may not use any conventional chemicals to fight weeds, insects or disease. The alternatives to chemicals are generally more labor intensive and expensive. The farmer also is working to enrich the soil by growing cover crops that fix nitrogen and other nutrients in the dirt. The cover crops add to costs because there are few commercial markets for them.

The farmer takes on the additional costs, but cannot call anything harvested during those three years organic, which means no premium prices.

The Super Bowl commercial’s six-pack campaign would provide additional funding for the brand’s Contract for Change, a program that includes helping barley growers with the financial cost of converting conventional farmland to USDA certified organic status. According to Adweek, the commercial will launch a year-long digital campaign that will include stories from farmers the company is working with. 

The 400 farmers in the program grow barley under three- to six-year contracts with the company and receive premium prices whether the crop is conventionally grown or certified organic. Crops grown on land in transition are used in Anheuser-Busch’s non-organic bands.

Jess Newman, senior agriculture director for the beer giant, said the funding aids farmers during the three-year conversion process and eventually will result in more organic barley cropland.

Proceeds from the six-pack campaign will be used for premium payments under the Contract for Change program and a separate grant program for farmers not under contract to Anheuser-Busch who are converting land to organic status, Newman said.

She said the program is an outgrowth of “the best practices from the organic industry to reduce some of these barriers growers face when they want to transition. We guarantee the long-term market. We pay transitional premiums to help farmers get over that transitional hump. We also provide technical support.”

For Anheuser-Busch, the arrangement helps to ensure that it will have a steady barley supply for its products.  Newman said she estimates the contract program could move 6,500 acres of barley in Idaho into certified organic status.   

Johanna Mirenda, farm policy director for the Organic Trade Association, said the transition costs along with market volatility make the decision to go organic even tougher for conventional grain growers. She said her organization sees the Super Bowl ad as a teaching tool for the general public and a way for the trade group to do outreach to accomplish its goal of expanding organic farming “acre by acre, farm by farm.”

“It’s incredible, the number of people that will be watching that ad,” Mirenda said.  

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