Thousands of farmers nationwide are using fewer pesticides, increasing yields and retaining more water in their crops — and earning extra money doing so. Indigo Agriculture wants to help farmers make their farming practices more environmentally friendly and pay them for increasing the carbon in their soil.
By analyzing each farm, the company utilizes agronomists and soil health experts nationwide to test each farm’s soil and determine a plan for change, often with decreasing tilling and introducing cover crops. Farmers can earn income by increasing environmental practices — known as regenerative farming.
Two Kansas farmers are at the heart of Indigo’s effort in the Midwest: agronomist Shannon Gnad, who owns a farm in Pratt but grew up in Hays, and Darrin Unruh, a soil health specialist who runs his family farms in Haven and Pretty Prairie.
"We work with nature — not fight against it," Unruh said. "The more diversity you can work in, the better. You always want to have a living plant in the ground."
Barclays, IBM and New Belgium Brewing are several of the companies who are supporting growers through agricultural carbon credits. Credits will be issued using new greenhouse gas offset project methodologies developed by the Climate Action Reserve and Verra.
These businesses agree to pay, through the Indigo verification program, $15 to $30 an acre annually, on a vested basis, for farmers to reduce on-farm emissions, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and replenish soil.
With millions of acres of farmland already at play in the Indigo Carbon program, the company is hoping to grow the initiative that creates financial incentives for farming carbon across the U.S. Several hundred Kansas farmers have already signed up, are investigating the program further or are awaiting the pasture carbon program.
"A lot of companies see Kansas as the center for regenerative agriculture," Gnad said. "Kansas is really in the forefront of these practices. Kansas is the bull’s eye."
Right now, the program only focuses on grains, but hopes to increase to pasture land in the near future. Also, Indigo needs farmers to have a minimum of 300 acres, but several farms can get together and become one unit.
"We are reinforcing what we see is happening with data," Unruh said. "If the yields are good or better, it will raise some eyebrows."
Gnad said this process can work in southwest Kansas, as well — where the average rainfall can be less than 1 foot per year.
"In a dry environment, when you do have rain events, you try to capture as much water as you can," Gnad said. "It’s remarkable what you see."
Along with learning new techniques, farmers are able to track their yields and monitor their infiltration. Indigo helps farmers reduce herbicide and fertilizer inputs and develop more resilient soil. This practice also helps farmers increase their income by having livestock graze on their cover crops.
"Our goal is to help make farmers more profitable and more resilient to weather extremes by increasing organic matter and improving the water filtration level," Unruh said. "Seeing is believing."