Planting Seeds for the Future: Soy Farming Innovation

May 10, 2019

By Chris Crawford • From Spring 2019 American Soybean Magazine

As soy growers face challenging times, industry leaders are looking to innovation to keep U.S. soybean growers competitive and protect their ability to farm profitably.

GreenLight Biosciences Inc.

GreenLight Biosciences Inc., Medford, Mass., develops high-performing RNA solutions for, among other things, crop management and plant protection.

Mick Messman, GreenLight chief commercial officer

"GreenLight is inspired by nature, applying RNA-based technology to bring greener solutions to agriculture," said Mick Messman, chief commercial officer for GreenLight. "We are using nature—and nothing else—to develop biocontrol solutions that deliver a new mode of action to control pests so they no longer destroy plants. Targeting only the problem pest will allow farmers to grow healthy crops without harming important insects like pollinators."

GreenLight's first RNA-based product will target the Colorado Potato Beetle, which can rapid

ly develop resistance to pesticides that are used repeatedly for control, Messman said. GreenLight plans to expand its offering into other crops, including soybeans.

RNA technology is highly targeted, which makes it effective in controlling specific pests with limited to no impact on soil health. RNA has low toxicity and is biodegradable with little persistence in the soil, he said.

And, as demand for agriculture and food products increases around the world, Messman

said new solutions to current challenges are critical.

"GreenLight Biosciences is part of a new wave of innovators in ag that brings cutting edge technology and products that provide improvements for plants, people and the planet.”

Indigo Ag

Indigo Ag's mission is to harness nature to help farmers sustainably feed the planet.

"The problems facing agriculture must be solved with systems innovation," said David Perry, CEO of Boston-based Indigo Ag.

Perry said Indigo Ag believes the current system of agriculture must be de-commoditized to benefit everyone:

  • Farmers will earn more for growing high quality and sustainably produced grain
  • Buyers will source that grain to deliver on consumer preferences
  • Consumers will have access to a traceable and nutritious food supply

David Perry, Indigo Ag CEO

Indigo Ag is providing the digital and microbial tools to support this de-commoditized system, Perry said.

"If successful, this system will drive incentives for new innovations that enable quality and sustainability," he said.

Perry said the problem with the current system is farmers aren't making money, consumers aren't getting the best food, and farming is consuming too many resources.

To help solve these issues, the company has launched Indigo Marketplace and Indigo Transport. Indigo Marketplace helps growers buy and sell their products at a premium based on consumer demand. Indigo Transport offers them a machine-driven algorithm to best match carriers to ship their haul.

Perry said he expects Indigo Marketplace to increase five- to tenfold on both the buyer and seller sides in the coming years.

"I've been building technology companies for years, and this is the fastest growing thing [Indigo Marketplace] I've ever been a part of," he concluded.


TechAccel LLC, Overland Park, Kan., describes itself as a research engine that invests in stranded, stalled or otherwise unavailable innovation in agriculture, animal health and food technology.

Michael Helmstetter, TechAccel LLC CEO/president

As for what TechAccel can do for soybean growers, Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D., president and CEO of the company said, "Our solution isn't tied to a short-term planting/harvesting cycle—as a technology and venture development firm, we work to bring stranded innovations from an early-stage proof-of-concept to market readiness."

Helmstetter said TechAccel looks for innovations that can drive significant and sustainable improvements. For example, highly specific biopesticides or technologies to deliver improved traits in crops.

The biggest challenges he sees today for the soybean industry are economic, tariff and trade related.

"That economic pressure leads to challenges of generational farm sustainability and the need for strategic investments while managing with low margins," Helmstetter said. "Long term, the challenges are the same as those faced throughout the agricultural ecosystem: applying tools of digital technology and biotechnology to maximize production, using energy and water efficiently, and creating new products or markets."