Seed startup closes $100 million funding to tackle water scarcity

Seed startup Indigo said that it closed a $100 million Series C investment, the largest private equity financing in the agriculture technology sector. Indigo first came onto the map in February when it unveiled cotton seeds laced in probiotics that conserve water and help replenish the soil. With more funding, the company plans to expand research and launch its first line of probiotic wheat seeds.

“The microbes covering Indigo Cotton are specifically chosen to help make the plants more resilient to (water) stress,” company CEO David Perry told The Verge. “Indigo plans to develop seed coatings that address issues like low nutrient stress, high salience stress, and threats like insect infestations.”

Their first product focuses on water conservation, The Verge said, “because agricultural water use is such a massive issue.” Approximately 80 percent of U.S. water use is consumed by agriculture, the USDA estimates. To feed a growing population, water use globally is expected to rise 15 percent in agriculture by 2050, predicts the World Bank.

Indigo says that their coated seeds help rejuvenate microbes in the soil, which have been depleted through industrial farming techniques, and promises their seeds will yield 10 percent more than generic seeds. Around 50,000 acres are already planted in Indigo Cotton seeds, and farmers are already seeing a hardier stock. The company plans to roll out their micro-enhanced wheat seed later this year.

Indigo will charge a minimum for its seeds in exchange for a 33 percent share of any additional value that Indigo’s crop creates for a farm, Tyler McClendon, president of Oxbow Agriculture, which operates 40,000 acres of farmland in Arkansas, told the Verge. “This means that Indigo makes a profit only when their seeds perform well, and it allows farmers to attempt to increase their yield using Indigo’s product without taking on too much risk — something that McClendon said farmers are very wary to do,” the Verge said.