Founded in 2014 as Symbiota, Indigo Ag focused initially on developing microbe-based seed coatings that substituted for chemically based ones and, the company claims, dramatically increased crop yields. The research to develop these seed coatings was led by Indigo Ag’s scientific co-founder, now Chief Innovation Officer, Geoffrey von Maltzahn.
Indigo Ag was the fifth biotech company founded by von Maltzahn. Three of the other four are publicly traded. He linked up with David Perry, another serial entrepreneur in the life sciences space, who invested in Indigo’s Series A round and became CEO.
Recognizing the unsustainable tilt of modern agriculture, Perry saw the seed coatings as useful, but ultimately of limited impact, at least on a planetary scale. They are, however, one piece of the puzzle in what has become a more comprehensive suite of products, services and initiatives under the Indigo Ag name — all of which point to a general goal of changing incentives for farmers. These various components, particularly Indigo Carbon, which fuels agricultural carbon sequestration, are part of the company’s ambitious Terraton Initiative, which aims to sequester 1 trillion tons of carbon.
Indigo Carbon streamlines the ability of farms to tap into the market for carbon offsets. After a farm signs up, the program establishes the current health and carbon content of its soil, using a combination of rigorous testing on a small sample and satellite imagery analysis over all the relevant acres to assess the soil cheaply at scale. From there, Indigo Carbon consults with the farm on how it might absorb more carbon into its soil or release less to begin with.
The program is ultimately results-based: Farmers are paid according to how much carbon they have in their soil, not how it got there. Perry cites five key methods of achieving those results. Two of those — cover crops and use of manure as a fertilizer — absorb more carbon directly. The other three — increasing crop rotation, using no-till practices and reducing chemical fertilizers — release less carbon to begin with.