By Barry Knight
Farmers face a profitability challenge.
Most people don’t think that farmers make much money. It’s true – farming’s margins are slim.
Yet revenues from crops and products derived from crops power multiple industries across the United States.
For farmers, unfortunately, the margins are so slim that they can go from profitable to unprofitable if the weather changes.
Farmers like to say normal weather is a series of extremes that range from drought to flooding. For this reason, they plant multiple crops, alternate planting days, and practice multiple strategies to reduce risk.
At Indigo, one of our tenets is increasing grower profitability. We do that by sharing risk and communicating directly with farmers. We have found that directly speaking with growers increases trust – something that has been [sadly] missing in the industry.
Farming is Evolving – Quickly
I’m a longtime farmer.
My grandfather cultivated my love of the land, but I’ve witnessed massive changes in agriculture over the course of my career.
I’d argue that the changes we’ve witnessed over the past 40 years are more significant than the 10,000 years previous.
But the changes we are about to witness now and in the near future will be revolutionary.
For example, 30 years ago, cotton was ravaged by boll weevils and bollworms. Farmers had to spray their fields every three days to control boll weevils and every five days to control bollworms. Cotton fields also were weeded manually.
If a farmer or his team wasn’t in the air spraying the fields, they’d be directing the people on the ground trying to eliminate the weeds.
Today, cotton fields are rarely sprayed and hand weeding isn’t necessary. Boll weevils and bollworms have been largely eliminated thanks to biotechnology. The amount of pesticide and chemical weed control sprays have been greatly decreased. The resulting impact on the environment has been overwhelmingly positive, and farmers have saved substantially on chemicals, fuel, and labor.
Farmers Welcome Change
Farmers are usually willing to take a look at and try something new – especially if it can increase profitability.
At Indigo, our approach with farmers has been to try our products with no financial risk on their part. We’ll coat some of their seed with our blend of microorganisms and they plant them. If they get a yield increase, they share the profit with us based on their productivity gains.
That unusual approach gets their attention.
They already know that when they buy a seed, they’re buying three things: the seed and its original genetics, the traits that have been bred into the seed (often using biotechnology), and the seed coating.
When we offer to treat the seed with microorganisms, they understand. Farmers are used to the idea that microorganisms can solve problems. They know that certain microorganisms can fix nitrogen. They know that soybeans do not require applications of nitrogen fertilizer because of the bacteria they co-exist with. If these strains are not present, then the seed must be inoculated with bacteria prior to planting to have good nitrogen production and to thrive.
This past year, we were able to demonstrate that we could grow our microorganism coatings and ship them to locations where we could put them on seeds. The results are promising: Indigo™ Cotton has demonstrated an average yield improvement of 11 percent in West Texas, an area well-known for water stress. We received great feedback from growers, and look forward to working with them, in cotton and other crops, this year.
The results we’re seeing are promising and we have reason to be excited. Now, it’s up to us to let growers know what we’re doing and how they can benefit from working with us.