Indigo Raises $250 Million to Bring Tech to Big Agriculture

(Bloomberg) -- Bacteria-based agriculture is starting to become big business. On Tuesday startup Indigo Ag Inc. announced it had raised $250 million from investors, bringing its funding total to more than $650 million.

Investors in the round included Baillie Gifford, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and the Alaska Permanent Fund. It comes on the heels of a $203 million financing round last year which valued the Boston-based company at $1.4 billion.

“If you rank the largest industries in the world, agriculture is third, fourth or fifth in any given year,” said Indigo Chief Executive Officer David Perry. “It’s also really the last big industry that has yet to be impacted by new technologies and new business models.”

Indigo is one of a number of firms using microbes to improve agricultural output, which could potentially curtail the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified seeds. In April, Bloomberg reported that Indigo’s microbe coatings boosted cotton yields by an average of 14 percent in full-scale commercial trials in Texas.

The company plans to use the new funding in part to expand its digital grain marketplace, which connects farmers directly to buyers, and allows buyers to select for specific attributes. For example, one large consumer packaged-goods company, aiming to cut back on its water use, opted to buy corn that was grown without irrigation, Perry said. The marketplace already lists more than $6 billion of grain inventory.

Besides using software to link farmers with customers, the marketplace will fuel Indigo’s other businesses by providing information about crop performance. “At some level everything we do is about data, and it all relates to one another,” Perry said. “A big part of the reason we gather data in the farms is to understand how our microbes are doing.” Indigo’s microbial coatings were developed in part by using machine learning.

The company’s move into the digital grain market comes as other competitors pile into the microbial agriculture technology space. In 2017, Bayer AG and Ginkgo Bioworks announced a $100 million fundraising round for its joint venture focusing on microbes for nitrogen fertilizer. And Monsanto, through its collaboration with Novozymes, is already selling microbial products to American farmers, with plans for European expansion.

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