Against a backdrop of rising global population and climate change causing increasing concern about potential food shortages, the Asahi Group is committed to ensuring stable and consistent supplies of food to feed the world. Since 2004, we have been working on the development of a new type of agricultural material that utilizes the plant immunity properties of beer yeast cell wall, a by-product of the brewing process.
Beer yeast is a by-product left over from the brewing process. This yeast that remains after brewing is used as the raw material for making tablets of the natural beer yeast product, Ebios, or is broken down and turned into yeast extract, becoming a raw material for flavorings and the like. However, the water-insoluable yeast cell walls in the by-product cannot be absorbed by plants, so have not been put to any use to date.
After ten years of research into yeast cell wall, the Asahi Group has created a processed form of beer yeast that is more easily absorbed by plants, and this forms the basis of an exciting new agricultural material that can be used to boost crop yields while reducing reliance on agricultural chemicals. Trials on tomato and rice crops have shown evidence of drastic improvement in root growth and disease resistance.
Rice plants using an agricultural supplement made from yeast cell walls (right), and conventionally cultivated rice plants (left)
The agricultural material helps to reduce reliance on agricultural chemicals such as chemical fertilizers, while also improving the soil and delivering benefits in terms of food safety, yield consistency and crop quality. Improved yield translates to fewer greenhouse gas emissions per unit quantity of crop produced.
Asahi Biocycle, founded in 2017 as part of the Asahi Group's commitment to addressing some of the key challenges of our time, is currently working on technology innovation and value creation projects such as rejuvenation of abandoned farmland in consultation with stakeholders in the primary production, forestry and landscaping industries.
Asahi Biocycle has plans to distribute the beer yeast cell wall material in Japan as well as overseas markets including Southeast Asia and the United States. We are confident that this new agricultural material will make an important contribution to food safety and security, and to environmentally sustainable farming practices.
In the collaborative research with Hokkaido University in 2018, Asahi Biocycle Co., Ltd. demonstrated the yield-boosting effects of dispersing the agricultural material using the beer yeast cell wall onto the surface of potato leaves. The beer yeast cell wall has a structure similar to that of plant pathogens. We found that dispersing this agricultural material onto leaf surfaces induced a defensive response from plants and would consequently help to increase yields from a potato tuber.
The securement of food will become increasingly important as a consequence of phenomena such as dramatic increase in the global population and abnormal weather. Through the utilization of the material, we will pursue a sustainable society by stimulating an increase in yields of farm products.
The Asahi Group has partnered with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) since 2019, aiming to contribute to solving the issues of farm operations in developing countries.
The Asahi Group provides agricultural materials to a public-private project for the development of a farm product distribution system in Indonesia, implemented by JICA, and to a participatory project for agricultural promotion in Savannakhet, Laos. In cooperation with JICA, we offer technical support for the projects. We grow vegetables on a trial basis in DKI Jakarta, Indonesia. The technical support is aimed at developing a system that will allow high-quality, safe crops to be harvested, and proposing an agricultural production system that will be able to increase and maintain the incomes of farmers. Farming in Laos mainly involves the cultivation of rice, which we grow on a trial basis to enhance its productivity and quality, among other reasons.
Furthermore, JICA organizes training programs and experiments aiming to ensure that international researchers engaged in the promotion of rice cultivation and the advancement of agriculture in developing countries would acquire knowledge and skills in farming at JICA's training centers in Japan and improve the farming practice in their country. The Asahi Group pursues a sustainable society by providing training on the agricultural material using the yeast cell wall in different training programs and encouraging the use of the material in the developing countries.
The unique agricultural material developed by Asahi, while designed primarily as a means of promoting crop plant growth while reducing reliance on fertilizers and agricultural chemicals, has also proven popular for ground maintenance at golf courses and schools. Whereas golf course greens normally require huge quantities of chemicals, the agricultural material has been shown to promote healthy growth and fresh green growth within ten days of application. This creates a robust lawn surface perfect for golf, without the need for chemicals. This material is now being used at nearly one-third of the golf courses in Japan—a feat accomplished only one year after the establishment of Asahi Biocycle Co. Ltd.
The material has the potential to greatly contribute to the safe, secure and sustainable management of lawn with the minimal use of agricultural chemicals in golf courses and parks all over Japan and around the world. Using the material, we will push forward with detailed verifications and analyses in field tests on lawn management and farm practices. In this way we will propose sustainable systems for growing plants and pursue a sustainable society.