Indigo Looks to Farmers as Leaders in Addressing Climate Change
This September, the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit goes virtual with sessions to connect and collaborate industry stakeholders working to create a more sustainable agri-food system.
In advance of the Summit, which is being held September 15 and 16, Karsten Neuffer, Global Chief Commercial Officer of Indigo Ag, discusses agricultural sustainability, soil health, and the role farmers play in addressing climate change.
Neuffer is a panelist on the “Soil Health: Can Farmers Become Part of the Climate Change Solution?” session Tuesday, September 15.
SF: Sustainability has many different definitions. What does sustainability mean to Indigo ag?
KN: Indigo is a mission-driven company dedicated to harnessing nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet. We always describe the mission in the context of three pillars: farmers must be profitable, agriculture must conserve natural resources, and agricultural practices must be aligned with consumer preferences for health and sustainability.
That is a horizontal view: farmer, environment, and consumer, in which we connect our vision for sustainability.
SF: How do farmers become a part of the climate change solution?
KN: This is one area where we need to change some of the paradigms, particularly how we talk about climate change.
Very often, agriculture is seen as one of the contributors to climate change. I think we can fundamentally turn this around and make agriculture not just a part of solution, but one of the biggest contributors to addressing climate change. Farmers have the opportunity to become the heroes of the climate solution.
Here’s why we believe that is true.
There are 3.6 billion acres of farmland worldwide. Those agricultural acres – and the farmers who operate on them – have a unique opportunity to draw down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it within the soil. Farmers have the potential to do so by transitioning to a more beneficial agriculture system – including implementing what are commonly referred to as regenerative practices - those that regenerate the soil. These practices include cover cropping, crop rotation, reduced pesticide and fertilizer use, not tilling the soil, and integrating livestock. Many farmers are already using these practices around the world.
By adopting and applying more of those practices, farmers are in a position to draw down and sequester more carbon in the soil. By doing so, farmers can become a key solution to not only reducing emissions on the farm but to harnessing their soils to draw down carbon dioxide and address climate change.
SF: How is Indigo working with farmers to earn credits for sequestering carbon?
KN: Of course, one of the questions is how do you get farmers to change their practices? This question is at the heart of the Indigo Carbon approach.
Indigo Carbon is a program that connects farmers implementing regenerative practices that prioritize soil health and carbon sequestration with buyers looking to offset their carbon emissions through drawdown in agricultural soils. By providing an economic incentive, in the form of a dollar amount per ton of carbon, in addition to agronomic support, Indigo helps farmers access a new income steam for their stored carbon.
After Indigo’s in-field agronomists work with farmers to implement new practices, we then measure the net on-farm greenhouse gas emissions and make sure the carbon that is sequestered and reduced on the farm gets verified. We then register with carbon registries because the carbon credit is only worth something if it's formally registered and acknowledged as a carbon credit.
When the farmer is in the possession of the carbon credits, we help him or her sell that carbon credit to interested buyers. So, they’re not only farming crops, they're also farming carbon, and that becomes another source of income for the farmer.
In addition, farmers are benefiting because adopting regenerative practices has been proven to improve soil health and increase the resiliency of farming operations. Healthier soil means a healthier crop, more yield and better quality. Many farmers implementing regenerative practices know that already, but we’ve found that some are looking for the extra financial incentive that comes from selling carbon credits. Once farmers are in that cycle, it really becomes virtuous: farmers not just have access to another source of revenue from farming carbon, but also the added benefit of improved grain production due to healthier soil.
SF: How does Indigo ensure the program is successful?
KN: Addressing climate change through agriculture will require global collaboration. It's really important that Indigo partner with many different companies and organizations to ensure success. For example, our work with the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) and Verra, two leading greenhouse gas accounting registries, is critical to ensuring carbon credits are verified. We also work with many companies and organizations who understand regenerative practices on a local basis, as changing practices on the farm is very dependent upon geographic location, soil type, regional climate conditions and type of crop. A local focus also ensures we can make measurement very cost effective.
SF: How does data and technology play a role in farmers adopting those regenerative ag practices?
First, getting carbon credits registered is a very important step because a carbon credit is an intangible asset. We want to make sure we have a rigorous and scientifically sound definition of what it takes to sequester carbon in the soil and generate a carbon credit. In collaboration with scientists and practitioners around the world, we’ve collaborated on developing scientific protocols that will accurately measure and verify net on-farm greenhouse gas emissions (carbon sequestered and reduced on the farm).
Measuring net greenhouse gas emissions in the soil is a threefold approach.
First, we collect data directly from the growers, and the equipment that they use, to model the carbon levels within their soil. Second, we gather as much data as we can through scalable, passive methods, such as satellite imagery, to assess how farm management practices have changed over time. Last, we soil sample a representative subset of fields to ensure the accuracy of our carbon quantification
The combination of these three tactics allows us to accurately measure the amount of carbon sequestered and abated on the farm at scale, and therefore, the amount of carbon credits generated, which can then be channeled back to farmers.
SF: How is agriculture going to change in the future?
KN: Agriculture is full of opportunities and change to come. One opportunity is the ability to farm carbon. This will help move agriculture from being perceived to be a cause of climate change to becoming the key solution, in addition to providing new income opportunities for farmers. Another opportunity is digitization, which we’ve seen many industries go through and experience fundamental shifts as a result. We’re already starting to see technology and innovation reshape how agriculture is done – and I expect we’ll see more of that in the future.
SF: What do you hope attendees of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit take away from your session and others?
KN: I hope that attendees of the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit take away that there is a huge opportunity for agriculture to become a part of the climate solution, and recognize farmers as the heroes of that solution. I hope that attendees will see that moving towards this more beneficial agriculture system creates advantages for farm profitability, environmental sustainability and ultimately consumer health.
As Global Chief Commercial Officer, Karsten applies his deep expertise in the agriculture industry to bring Indigo’s mission to growers across the world, delivering the company’s portfolio of systems-based solutions to farmers operating at different scales and across a range of environments.
Karsten joined Indigo in 2018 as Chief Operations Officer, International to lead Indigo’s overseas expansion. During his tenure, he spearheaded the expansion of the company’s core business lines in new markets, including South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.
In Brazil and Argentina, Karsten has overseen the launch and growth for the company’s microbial offerings, in addition to debuting the company’s first internationally developed product, Indigo AgFinancing, an innovative digital agricultural barter credit solution. In India, Karsten led the company’s first expansion into smallholder markets with the formation of Grow Indigo™, a joint venture with Mahyco Grow™ to provide growers across South Asia access to biological seed treatments, improving their livelihoods and resilience to the effects of environmental stress on crops.
Most recently, Karsten has brought Indigo’s portfolio of solutions leading the transition to a more beneficial agriculture system to Europe, beginning with the launch of Indigo’s microbial seed treatments to Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and Turkey. He has also overseen the pilot and strategic expansion of Indigo Carbon - a program that rewards growers for carbon enriched soil - which will debute in Germany in the 2020/21 season.
Over the course of his career, Karsten has handled billions in assets at the helm of multinational agribusiness units while helping streamline bottom-line operations and drive market growth in both developed and emerging regions. Prior to Indigo, he served in several global and regional leadership positions at Syngenta, where he managed top-to bottom-line P&Ls, spearheaded commercial strategy redesign, launched a variety of product lines, and secured partnerships, building talented, cross-functional teams in the process. Before Syngenta, Karsten was Associate Principal at McKinsey, mainly leading clients in the chemicals and agricultural sector. He holds an MBA from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and a BA in Industrial Engineering and Management Science from the University of Karlsruhe.
"At Indigo, innovative technology meets passionate people to create the future of agriculture—a ‘better’ agriculture for farmers, the environment, and consumers. I feel privileged to be part of this team and to help shape this exciting journey."
Join the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit online on September 15-16, 2020, for 1-1 meetings, interactive group discussions, and critical intelligence from industry leaders on how our industry will emerge from the current crisis.