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Start-Up Spotlight: Indigo Ag

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.

About the Company

Founders: Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Noubar Afeyan, and David Berry 

Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts

Background: Indigo Ag’s microbiome-based seed treatment complements a plant’s natural processes to improve its health and development while increasing yield. The company is currently focusing on cotton, corn, rice, soybeans, and wheat.

It is also tackling environmental sustainability. “Our product pipeline directed at water stress allows for higher yields without increased chemical or water use,” says von Maltzahn. “We are focusing on microbial products that address nitrogen limitation, which allows for less synthetic fertilizer to be applied.”

Funding: The company has raised over $400 million.

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