Start-up IN­DIGO AG has raised over $400 mil­lion. That’s a lot of MI­CROBES.

IN­DIGO AG WORKS TO IM­PROVE CROP HEALTH AND PRO­DUC­TIV­ITY BY TAK­ING AD­VAN­TAGE OF NAT­U­RALLY OC­CUR­RING MI­CROBES.

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The hy­poth­e­sis that plant mi­cro­biomes have dra­matic ef­fects on plant health prompted Ge­of­frey von Maltzahn to found In­digo Ag in 2014. “Mi­crobes are found on plant leaves and roots, in soils, and in­side the plants them­selves,” he says. “Sim­i­lar to hu­man mi­crobes, plant mi­crobes can be eas­ily im­pacted by fac­tors in their en­vi­ron­ment such as heat, drought, chem­i­cals like fungi­cides, and soil con­di­tions.”

Us­ing genome se­quenc­ing and com­pu­ta­tional anal­y­sis, the start-up has de­vel­oped a data­base of ge­nomic in­for­ma­tion on plant mi­crobes. It then ap­plies al­go­rithms and ma­chine learn­ing to this data­base to pre­dict which mi­crobes are most ben­e­fi­cial to a plant’s health un­der its unique en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions.

“The re­sult­ing prod­ucts (seed coat­ings) com­ple­ment a plant’s nat­u­ral pro­cesses to im­prove health and devel­op­ment, while boost­ing crop yields,” von Maltzahn ex­plains. “We then pro­vide op­ti­mized treated seeds to grow­ers.”

To date, its seed treat­ment prod­ucts, which in­clude corn, cot­ton, rice, soy­beans, and wheat, have been fo­cused on im­prov­ing yield in wa­ter-stressed re­gions. “In­digo corn tri­als in 2017 demon­strated yield in­creases of up to 77% un­der wa­ter-stressed con­di­tions, which equates to about 40 ad­di­tional bushels per acre or $120 per acre in added rev­enue (at an av­er­age price of $3 per bushel), which can be a mean­ing­ful boost for a fam­ily farm,” he says.

In 2018, the com­pany en­tered into pro­duc­tion con­tracts with corn, wheat, rice, and soy­bean grow­ers in the U.S. At har­vest, they will re­ceive a price pre­mium that gives grow­ers an­other op­por­tu­nity to in­crease prof­itabil­ity. For corn, it of­fers a 47¢-per-bushel pre­mium, which comes from buy­ers will­ing to pay more for a high-qual­ity, trace­able crop.

The start-up be­lieves there is a bet­ter way to farm. “Our prod­ucts can trans­form grower prof­itabil­ity by re­duc­ing weather risk, in­creas­ing yields, de­creas­ing in­put costs, and in­creas­ing crop prices,” says CEO David Perry.

If suc­cess­ful, In­digo Ag will sub­stan­tially im­prove the eco­nom­ics of farm­ing.

“To­gether with grow­ers, we have the po­ten­tial not only to im­pact an in­dus­try but also to ful­fill a larger vi­sion of a world where nu­tri­tious food is trans­par­ently sourced and re­sources are con­served for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” he says.

In­digo Ag demon­strates cot­ton yield im­prove­ments of an av­er­age of 11% in the wa­ter-stressed re­gion of west Texas.

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