Microbial seed treatment and digital technology startup Indigo Agriculture recently launched Indigo Acres, which it describes as a comprehensive package to support growers transitioning to regenerative farming practices. It connects the Boston-based company’s online grain marketplace with its new soil carbon trading initiative.
All of this is part of Indigo’s Terraton Initiative, a global effort to drawdown one trillion tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide through agricultural soils. Indigo says that if farmers can increase the level of carbon in their soils by an average of 0.5% globally, they can reverse the one trillion ton increase in atmospheric carbon since the Industrial Revolution, according to data captured by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration earlier this year.
“Transitioning to regenerative practices was a big leap for me,” said David Bachman, an Oklahoma grower based out of Grant County, in a press release announcing the new tool. “My farm is more profitable and now I can earn more for sequestering carbon into the soil. I didn’t have anyone helping me make these decisions and I could have accelerated a 10-year transition down to three-or-four years with the type of help Indigo is now offering.”
Interpreted by some as “beyond sustainable” regenerative ag seeks to improve soil health and views soil as the heart of a farm’s ecological health. By improving soil health, proponents of regenerative ag claim that a multitude of benefits can be achieved such as better plant diversity, greater water retention, diminished runoff, enhanced wildlife habitat, improved animal health, and carbon sequestration.
A recent report, Soil Wealth, analyzed the level of investor commitment to this new farming mindset and identified 70 investment strategies with assets under management of over $47.5 billion — just in the US. Indigo alone has captured $650 million in venture dollars, including a $250 million Series E in September 2018.
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It defines regenerative practices as ones that help draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide while enriching soils. Examples include cover cropping, diverse crop rotations, input reductions, reduced or no-tillage, and livestock integration. By employing a data-driven approach, Indigo’s agronomists plan to make recommendations tailored to each field to make the adoption of regenerative practices easier while also increasing the amount of carbon sequestered.
Growers can get paid for carbon sequestration through Indigo Carbon, a key component of Indigo Acres. Subject to program rules for vesting and holdbacks, growers can earn $15 per carbon credit generated in 2020 if they sign up for the program before the end of this year.
Indigo Acres features three tiers, with each offering agronomic support and associated tools to help growers transition:
- Indigo Acres Standard. The first tier of Indigo Acres, Standard is available at no cost. Growers sign up for Indigo Carbon and Indigo Marketplace, an e-commerce platform for directly transacting on grain, through an online portal when enrolling.
- Indigo Acres Plus. Building upon Standard, Plus offers growers data-driven recommendations from agronomists through four in-depth visits throughout the year, patented microbiome seed treatments, and grain quality testing to further a grower’s profitability potential.
- Indigo Acres Complete. The top tier maximizes growers’ soil carbon content and profitability. Complete includes year-round visits from an Indigo certified regenerative agronomist, microbiome seed treatments, crop pricing tools, premium buyer contracts, and handheld grain quality testing, among other components.
Will regenerative ag pay?
As the conversation around regenerative ag’s potential grows, some are starting to question whether there is enough financial incentive for producers to adopt new practices that may require more time, labor, and monitoring.
“At Indigo, we believe that to address three of the biggest challenges in agriculture – grower profitability, environmental sustainability, and consumer health – we have to question the whole system,” said Indigo CEO David Perry in a statement. “We see the adoption of regenerative practices as an important part of that change, and have designed our new tiered offer, Indigo Acres, to help growers make that transition.”
Indigo claims that the practices included in the kit can help improve the profitability of US farmers by enabling a new revenue stream through carbon credits, providing premium pricing for sustainably grown grain through the Indigo Marketplace, decreasing capital costs, and improving a farmer’s ability to tolerate extreme weather variability.
Three and a half months after launching its grain marketplace in September 2018, growers entered more than $6 billion in grain inventory on the marketplace and buyers entered more than 4,000 bids representing over $2 billion in demand, according to Indigo. Buyers on the platform can source grain with a range of characteristics such as protein content, milling quality, and variety, as well as specific production practices like organic, grain-fed, and non-GMO. The company argues that this could enable farmers to realize more profit for their crops.
At least one other entity is hoping to incentivize farmers through a carbon credit payment. The Western Sustainability Exchange is working with other entities including NativeEnergy, Soils for the Future, and Syracuse University to help Montana ranchers adopt rotational grazing practices through contracts providing payment for the cost of the switch.
*Stay tuned for updates to this story including feedback from industry experts on Indigo Acres*