A Seed Treatment That Improves Water-Use Efficiency?

April 4, 2017 10:48 AM
Cotton roots

It may sound unusual to hear that a New England-based company wants to cause a disruption in the cotton industry with a new seed treatment, but David Perry, CEO of agtech startup Indigo, says his company is up to the challenge.

Indigo’s innovations started with what Perry calls one of the most important health discoveries of the past decade – the intricate, complex interactions many plants and animals have with a vast number of microbes.

“It started with the revelation that we have more bacteria in and on us than our own human cells, and these microbes have a tremendous impact on our own health and well-being,” he says. “Over time, microbes help us in a whole host of ways, like improving nutrient absorption and fighting illness and disease.”

Perry understood that the same is true for a cotton plant – the target of Indigo’s first seed treatment. Rather than go hunting for microbes in the soil (there are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than people on earth), Indigo opted instead to raid the plant itself for microbes.

“Most of the microbes you pull from the soil don’t benefit the plant, so it becomes a major screening challenge,” Perry says. “If you want to know which microbes help the plant, look inside the plant.”

Perry says by doing this, Indigo has located a proprietary blend of microbes that can help the cotton plant deal with a variety of biotic (living pests) and abiotic (environmental stressors) challenges. The product can even help cotton improve water-use efficiency, according to Perry.

“There are multiple ways microbes can help plants with water-use efficiency – by stimulating root growth or redirecting the plant’s energy, for example,” he says.

In 2016, Indigo went across 50,000 cotton acres in West Texas. Producer Shawn Holladay represented 40 of those acres on an on-farm trial.

“On my operation, it made enough difference where I want to see some more,” he says. “I planted 40 acres treated, 40 acres not treated, I harvested it myself separately. Where the product was on the seed, I got right at 60 pounds more to the acre.”

In total, cotton farmers saw a 75% “win rate” and 11% average yield gain in Indigo’s 2016 trials. Winter wheat trials are also currently underway, and Perry hopes to test several more crops to the mix in 2017. He says for the best results, the product will have to be tailored to each plant species and even each distinct geography.

Perry says Indigo’s products won’t be static, either. After each crop season, products will be further assessed and tweaked for improvements.

For more information, visit www.indigoag.com

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