Woodford supports Kentucky rye farmers
Brown-Forman-owned Woodford Reserve has announced a five-year commitment to purchase rye grain from local farmers to bring rye production back to Kentucky.
In partnership with the University of Kentucky, the American whiskey producer will purchase rye grown by four farmers to be trialled for the next five years.
Beginning this summer, together they will run sensory tests and small distillation trials on 10 varieties of rye to determine their flavour nuances that impact Bourbon.
“If we can bring rye back to Kentucky, it would not only support farmers, but give a sustainable grain to whiskey producers across the state,” said master distiller Elizabeth McCall. “Sustainability is a topic I care passionately about – and, working with partners, we can make a big impact.”
Rye is said to be difficult to grow in Kentucky because of its generally warm, humid climate.
Rye is mainly sourced by distillers from the cooler climates of Canada or Europe. To overcome these challenges, more than US$1 million will be invested collectively by partners in the development of an open-sourced Kentucky variety over the course of the program.
Woodford Reserve noted that rye is an essential part of a suitable environment as it improves the health of soil by reducing negative impacts of rainfall variability and sequesters carbon.
Growing rye locally provides a third cash crop for farmers in a two-year corn and soybean rotation.
Partnering with local farmers allows for a reduced carbon footprint at the Woodford Reserve Distillery and diversification in supply while strengthening relationships and the economy.
“We need to find a rye variety that is well suited to our region of the country,” said Sam Halcomb, president of the KY Small Grain Grower’s Association and managing partner of Walnut Grove Farms, the visionary family farm behind the initiative.
“Woodford Reserve has been very receptive to those ideas, and they’ve been very patient to work with us as a family farm and allow us to experiment with some things and support us in those experimentations.”
Several Brown-Forman family growers have agreed to grow rye ‘in kind’ for agronomy research.
Dace Brown Stubbs, owner of Log House Farm, will be growing the seed needed for the farmer trial plots.
“Rye is a wonderful crop. Cover crops keep our topsoil from blowing away and supply the soil with proper nutrients for growing other crops,” he said.
“Rye is such a hot commodity in the spirits industry today so why do we buy our rye from Canada and Germany, it needs to happen right here at home.”
McCall added: “We feel confident celebrating the rye commitment knowing that our local Kentucky farmers are truly partners and not just suppliers. We look forward to continuing bringing together different stakeholders to grow Woodford Reserve.”