Indigo Ag’s Data Dive

Indigo Ag’s Data Dive

“But then again, a lot of us bet against Amazon, and look what happened.”


That’s the caveat that many a bold futurist will employ when trying to balance his or her dismissal of a seemingly preposterous technological concept against the improbability of success. It’s the modern-day equivalent of, “But they laughed at Seward when he bought Alaska.” In fact, I’ve found myself dropping similar words after going through the 10 or 15 reasons that some technology or another would, in my mind, crash and burn: “But I’m just a dumb city kid from Cleveland.”

All this came to mind when I picked up a story on about Indigo Ag titled, “A Designer Seed Company is Building a Farming Panopticon.” Besides being intensely jealous of the author’s use of the word “panopticon” in a headline, I was immediately intrigued.

As of this writing I have not gotten a response from Indigo regarding requests for interviews and information, and the partners I have tried to connect with have been equally silent. (AUTHOR UPDATE: I recently got the opportunity to speak with Indigo Ag leadership in person — story will be linked here.) Still, there’s a lot of money and effort that’s being put into this thing, with big implications for agriculture if it works.

Essentially, it describes how Indigo, a manufacturer of biologically derived seed treatments, has evolved into a darling among ag technology start-ups. Emerging from its desire to deliver proof of efficacy for its technology, Indigo Ag now has tentacles sunk into virtually every aspect of the crop production channel.

One of its first creations was an online marketplace to match buyers and sellers of agricultural products. But it was its purchase of TellusLabs and corresponding access to geospatial information that has launched the company into a dizzying array of initiatives and offerings, many of which intersect the traditional players in the channel.

Indigo is harnessing TellusLabs’ forecasting tool, Kernel, which combines weather reports, USDA data, and satellite-derived images to divine a wide range of predictive information — from what was planted to what soil it was grown in to predictions of harvest.

Intersecting this capability is its network of about 100 farmer-partners who have been testing Indigo’s seed treatment offerings on 1 million acres worldwide, providing even more data to the company upon which to build better algorithms … you get the picture.

The story puts it like this: “By feeding data from Indigo’s million-acre global grower network into Tellus’ algorithms, Indigo plans to tune its new agronomic intelligence apparatus down to individual fields. The idea is to bring the results it saw in a few wheat fields in the heart of America’s bread basket to every acre of tillable soil.”

Sure, we’ve heard this pitch before, full of promise, pomp, and circumstance. In full-on practice it’s a much more difficult slog. But they are exceedingly well funded (with a 700-person office complex planned for Memphis), and agriculture is not Indigo’s only play. From my perspective, this is definitely a company to watch.

Of course, I would dismiss the whole thing as crazy, but that’s what they called Edison when he invented the light bulb. …