How Data and Technology Bring Value to Sustainable Farming Practices

    March 14, 2023

    Farmers are the heart of what we do at Indigo. We have a strong belief that sustainable agriculture is the leading, scalable solution to create enduring environmental and economic impact—and that is only possible if farmers have the tools and resources to implement sustainable practices. We build technologies to help farmers plan, enact, measure, and monetize those practices, whether it's through adding sustainability attributes to their products or by selling carbon credits.

    Last June, we celebrated the world’s first issuance of registry-issued agricultural soil carbon credits at scale. This historic milestone signaled the dawning of a scalable foundation for agricultural sustainability. Now, seven months later, we have issued our second crop of these high-quality carbon credits — this time with five times the quantity of credits produced by nearly 430 farmers across 22 U.S. states. The rigorous science behind these carbon credits is directly tied to the success of the new opportunity for farmers. We have created a process to make the verification and recording of these sustainability claims possible for the first time.

    How Does Indigo Measure Carbon Credits?

    Led by our passion for open and transparent science, Indigo has created a sophisticated program that segments and plans the steps farmers, as the independent operation owners, need to take to be compliant, as well as steps Indigo, as the program operator, needs to take to verify the farmers’ efforts. To do this, we collect data through satellite observations, novel remote sensing instruments, on-farm sampling, and local agronomic observations. We sample over 900 million acres every year, giving us a collection of over six trillion observed data points to see what’s actually happening in farmers’ registered fields in each growing season.

    Next, we load the data into a model that simulates the behavior of the insects, plants, water, and climate in the complex soil ecosystem. Our model quantifies the climate value of these new grower actions. Then we compare the delta between a common practice set and the actions taken on the registered fields in terms of carbon sequestered. We take that difference that we computed and convert it to, in the case of carbon credits, a financial instrument that can be traded, and then we ensure payment to the growers who have created the verified credit.

    The choice is always the farmer’s. The idea is to start slow, test, experiment, learn, iterate, and give them as many options as possible to optimize their farming operations for long-term profitability.

    How are Indigo’s Carbon Credits Registered?

    This process and the program are scientifically rigorous and data-driven. That’s the job of Indigo’s team of software engineers, data scientists, agronomists, soil scientists, designers, product managers, and infrastructure DevOps. We’re building and maintaining a program that collects data at scale, quantifies it, and runs it through scientific models — differential equations and machine learning algorithms — that have been peer-reviewed by scientists and calibrated. Indigo uses one of the industry-leading biogeochemical models, DayCent, and uniquely applies it to soil samples measured in a subset of fields at the time of the practice change to anchor the model to the starting conditions on the ground. This enables us to meet the rigorous standards of the carbon registry we work with, Climate Action Reserve. We collect the data, we quantify, and then we create a report that we give to the carbon registries. Third party auditors review it thoroughly before the credits are registered.

    Empowering Farmers with Sustainability Options

    At Indigo, we want to empower farmers with choices: they get to choose how many practices they want to start with. Do they just want to adopt cover crops on one small field for now to try it out to see how it works, or do they want to experiment with no-till for a while? This gives farmers the opportunity to explore the practices that are right for their operation and long-term goals while seeing the value creation potential of their actions. And now, with FieldFlex, farmers can seamlessly move between producing carbon credits or sustainable crops, year-to-year, field-to-field.

    Maria Belousova (center) at a farm visit in Arkansas

    Farmers can choose whether to produce carbon credits or market their crops as sustainable products for companies for every field, every year of their rotation, to maximize their profitability. When farmers produce carbon credits, what they’re really doing is generating a net positive impact on the environment. They get to decide whether they want to leverage those practices for carbon credits or, where available, sell their crops to consumer packaged goods companies who are looking for sustainably sourced grains. Indigo products can tabulate the digital attributes about how the grain was grown, and then we can either couple the data and physical crop for sale together for the farmer or sell it separately as a carbon credit. Our proprietary technology tracks carbon removals and emission reductions at the field level, allowing farmers to make the right choices for their operation, while ensuring the highest standards of scientific integrity and avoiding the risk of double-counting.

    The choice is always the farmer’s. The idea is to start slow, test, experiment, learn, iterate, and give them as many options as possible to optimize their farming operations for long-term profitability. With the open market as our foundation, farmers get to choose, ultimately, how they want to make money from the sustainable practices they are implementing to help our planet.

    An accomplished technology leader, Maria is responsible for developing Indigo’s digital platform to better serve farmers, buyers, advisors, and agricultural ecosystem partners. Maria focuses on opening access to Indigo’s technology platform to create greater efficiency and connectivity, leveling the playing field and expanding opportunity for those operating within the business of agriculture. Maria has built a career solving complex customer problems with technology, building successful large-scale and data driven products, and leading high performing technology and product organizations, experience she leverages to oversee Indigo’s Software Product Management, Engineering, Geo Innovation, and Information Technology teams.