Agriculture's Time Has Come

By David Perry

Today, CNBC ranked Indigo as the most innovative company in the world on its 2019 Disruptor 50 list.

This news is significant for our young organization but, more importantly, it is an achievement for the health and progress of our population and planet. In 2013, the list’s inaugural year, agriculture wasn’t even included as an industry to watch. Now, the industry is at the forefront of technological breakthroughs and innovation, while the collective recognition for its potential accelerates. The world has countless problems to solve and agriculture offers us uniquely hopeful solutions to address the most daunting global challenges.

At the age of 12, I had my first experience of the link between food and health, though it would be years before I consciously made the connection. I grew up on a farm in Arkansas where my family raised corn and cows and sold fertilizer to local farmers. This is where, on a cold December day, I witnessed my dad have a heart attack while we were nailing shingles on a warehouse roof. That moment made an indelible impression on me. My father’s body, at only 44-years-old, had failed him. Wanting to prevent a similar fate for myself, I searched for ways to improve my health as I grew from a teenager to a young man. 

Exercise was the preventative measure I settled on, pushing my body to the extreme. I competed in triathlons, marathons, and even Ironman’s. But it was not enough. I was unable to keep my cholesterol levels where they should be. It was only in the last decade, through experimentation and lots of research, that I understood the importance of diet. Ultimately, I realized that the way we grow our food and how we choose to consume it has a much bigger impact than exercise.  I decided to commit the remainder of my career to leveraging the underappreciated impact of food and agriculture on our health. In 2015, I became CEO of Indigo and founded Better Therapeutics to bring about that beneficial change.

I continue to discover the intricacies and interconnectedness of our food system. Over the past five years, I have had thousands of conversations with growers, including many that would consider themselves “regenerative growers”.  They have taught me that we can practice agriculture, at scale, in a way that is beneficial for growers, consumers, and the environment. I now see with clarity how human health and the health of our planet are so intricately connected through agriculture.

In the past 12 to 18 months, I have also noticed an awakening to the relationship between agriculture and climate change – not only how the industry is a major contributor to the problem, but also how regenerative growing practices can lead to a solution.  As someone who has been intensely focused on this area for years and who has been close to farming his whole life, I find this awakening crucial and hopeful.  As the collective recognition expands, so too will the discovery and adoption of practices that are vital to our prosperity.

Indigo was founded to address one question: What if microbes, living within a plant, could help plants protect themselves from insects, disease, and drought?  But we quickly saw that, in order to enact systemic change, we would have to answer more than one question. We wondered: Is there a way to decommoditize agriculture so that farmers can get paid for quality and sustainability rather than just quantity? Does agriculture really have to be a contributor to climate change – or can it be part of the solution? Why can’t all consumers have access to healthy and nutritious food?

I hope that Indigo’s first place on CNBC’s Disruptor 50 list is just the beginning of this collective recognition. As the world comes to understand the importance of agriculture, entrepreneurs, investors, and farmers will create and support new technologies and approaches. This, in turn, will improve the healthfulness and sustainability of how we grow our food, while compensating farmers for their efforts.

Agriculture is arguably the most important industry on Earth. I think its time has come.