Unseen Byproducts in Ag: The Value of Capturing Data in Sustainable Farming

    May 16, 2023

    We live in a world of waste where consumers (myself included) take for granted the abundance of food and other conveniences in our lives without thinking of the waste and byproducts we create through consumption. After spending time in the farmlands of America, I have learned to appreciate the innovation, efficiency, and creativity of the farmers, processors, and transporters of grains across the agricultural production system.

    During my recent visit to a rice mill in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the factory manager demonstrated how many different valuable byproducts can be produced from a single grain of rice. The four stages of production include:

    Step 1: De-husking the rice to access the grain
    Step 2: Polishing the grain to remove the brownish bran covering
    Step 3: Filtering out broken rice grains from full ones
    Step 4: Packaging the full rice grains for retail sales

    It was truly remarkable how each step’s “waste” was repackaged into its own product and business model. The empty husks from step 1 are collected and sold as chicken feed, while the brown-ish bran covering from step 2 is sold as a bran additive to consumer goods companies. The broken grains of rice in step 3 are sold to breweries to produce beer. And finally, the full-length polished grains are sold as white rice through retailers to consumers for the dinner table.

    The factory manager joked that 99 percent of everything coming into the facility is reused – the one percent that isn’t are the banana peels the workers bring in with their lunch boxes!

    This innovative approach to viewing waste or byproducts of a process as valuable is repeated throughout the agricultural supply chain. Ethanol plants that use corn create a byproduct called Distiller’s Dried Grains (DDGs) that are then sold to feed mills for livestock. Cotton gins separate the cotton from the seeds and then sell the seeds for livestock feed as well.

    I find this both an inspiration and a proofpoint for what we are trying to do with data assets at Indigo. While regenerative practices have proven agronomic benefits for farmers such as healthier soil which can strengthen crop yields, they’ve also been scientifically proven to generate environmental benefits, such as sequestering greenhouse gasses. This byproduct of regenerative practices is of increasing value to corporations who have committed to Net Zero targets and consumers who are willing to spend more on environmentally sourced products. Farmers who have or are planning to adopt these practices have a way to monetize their hard work.

    At Indigo we have developed proven programs, biogeochemical models, products, platform and software tools required to capture and process the agronomic data through our partner network that is a byproduct of how the farmer grows their crops, and then monetize that data on behalf of the farmers and the agricultural supply chain in recognition of the positive impact on the planet. This is a logical extension of agriculture’s long tradition of monetizing a byproduct at scale to meet market demands and benefit farmers, one that we believe will make agriculture a more resilient industry for generations to come.