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Indigo launches Terraton Challenge for innovators to accelerate, quantify & reward soil carbon sequestration – apply now!

July 23, 2019

Applications are open for innovators and entrepreneurs across disciplines to apply to the Terraton Challenge, part of Indigo Agriculture’s Terraton Initiative that aims to sequester one trillion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into soil carbon reservoirs.

Indigo Ag, the Boston-based agriculture company, commits to support novel solutions that will accelerate carbon sequestration, quantify soil carbon levels, and reward carbon farming. Semi-finalists will be in the running for up-to $3 million in contracts with Indigo, $20k in grant funding, and participation in a virtual incubation program, including running experiments in real-world farming conditions through Indigo’s network of grower partners.

“We want all of the world’s innovators to see that agriculture is the biggest lever we all have to address climate change,” said Geoffrey von Maltzahn, chief innovation officer at Indigo. “Relative to its promise, the whole fields of soil health and regenerative systems have only received a small fraction of the innovation and scientific attention they deserve. Through The Terraton Challenge, we’re asking the world’s innovators to join us and take advantage of Indigo’s R&D and business platform to maximize the potential for agriculture to address climate change together.”

“Indigo is a deeply mission-focused company, and a central part of our mission is to improve the environmental sustainability of farming. We believe this requires systems innovation and the ability to implement multiple new tools and solutions simultaneously to maximize impact. For example, we are working to rapidly scale up regenerative systems, improve them at every step of the way, and get growers paid for carbon sequestration. This will have an extraordinary impact with what we know today, and we think this can be further increased by inviting innovators from around the world into this opportunity.”

The aim of the Terraton Challenge is to rapidly scale and deploy technologies and solutions that advance agriculture’s potential to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere.

These technologies and solutions will then be made available to farmers participating in Indigo Carbon, the marketplace launched last month to pay farmers based on the amount of carbon they manage to store in their soils. Through the platform, Indigo will facilitate payment on a per ton basis from a participating buyer, such as a food or clothing company looking to offer products that are climate positive. 

“We already work with a number of startups by deploying their technologies at scale, and our hope with the Terraton Challenge is to further stimulate a more vibrant ecosystem of innovators focused on moving the entire industry forward,” added von Maltzahn.

Who Can Apply?

Startups of all stages and sizes are invited to apply in the following categories.


This challenge category is focused on novel products and processes that can accelerate the pace at which carbon is sequestered in soils. This includes technologies leveraging plant breeding and genetics to produce new crop varieties, crop input companies with novel soil amendments or microbes, or those with novel processes that convert biomass into stable forms of soil carbon.

“Until now, there has been no clear motivation for agricultural technologies to focus on optimizing carbon sequestration rates. Technology development efforts have considered yield as the primary target. We can now reframe these objectives by focusing on farm profitability, where carbon can be sold alongside the harvested crop. This will unlock innovations that accelerate the rate at which we can achieve our stated Terraton Initiative goal,” says Dan Harburg, senior director of systems innovation at Indigo.


As the name suggests this category is focused on solutions that measure the amount of carbon in soils. Technologies that drive efficiency, accuracy, and costs out of quantifying soil carbon will accelerate the collective understanding of carbon and hasten the adoption of practices that sequester carbon.  This is a broad category that could include improved tools for being able to pull soil cores faster and deeper, autonomous soil sampling, remote sensing, in-field spectroscopy systems, and algorithms and digital tools that optimize soil sampling locations or the methods for sampling.


“Growers have historically lacked strong financial incentives to implement practices that sequester carbon. The opportunity here is to develop novel financial products that help growers shift their thinking to consider carbon as a critical lever in the farm profitability, and therefore rapidly adopt new systems of management practices,” said Harburg. Startups in this category will be developing innovative financial instruments and products, including carbon accounting tools, new carbon credit methodologies, insurance products, or novel approaches for accounting for ecosystem services.

What’s on Offer?

Semi-finalists within each challenge category will be selected by a panel of judges compromised of thought-leaders, academics, industry experts, investors, and Indigo Executives. Additionally, Indigo is partnering with the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard to develop an enduring challenge framework that engages innovators from disparate disciplines and sectors across the globe.

These semi-finalists will be announced on October 22, 2019, and undertake three months of incubation, which will include access to an expert mentor network, monthly review panels, speaking engagements, and the opportunity to experiment through on-farm trials on Indigo acres.

All semi-finalists will be invited to a live demonstration of their solutions at BeneficialAg 2020, where they’ll be eligible for $20k in grant funding and up to $3 million in contracts to scale their technologies on Indigo acres. The contracts will be awarded to winners to deploy their solutions on farms enrolled in Indigo Carbon, to help transition their acres to regenerative farming practices, measure their soil carbon levels or facilitate their incentive payments.

The judging panel will have a set of criteria to measure ideas against one another and evaluate the capabilities of each submission.

There are clear requirements for what you need to include on your application, including a six-slide pitch deck, and specific questions. Find out more details and apply here.

*This post was sponsored by Indigo Agriculture, an AgFunder Network Partner. Find out more here.*

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