How a Billion-Dollar Farm-Tech Startup Stumbled, Then Revamped

When a Boston-based tech startup showed John Creighton one of the best prices for his corn he’d seen in years, the farmer signed up to sell 75,000 bushels through its network.

What followed were months of headaches. The company’s paperwork, which farmers rely on to track grain quality and deliveries, was a mess, Mr. Creighton said. Trucks sometimes arrived at the farm to make pickups in the middle of the night, and several loads of his grain went missing. Months passed without full payment on the grain, versus the 72-hour turnaround with local elevators. He was paid, he said, after threatening to complain to regulators.

“They had a great sales pitch,” said Mr. Creighton, who farms in Illinois and dealt with Indigo in 2019. “It turned into a complete cluster.”

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The source of Mr. Creighton’s frustration was Indigo Agriculture Inc., a startup that had set its sights on the U.S. Farm Belt with an idea to use cutting-edge technology to reshape the agriculture industry.

Instead of selling directly to local co-ops or to the handful of enormous companies that buy grain, farmers could use a platform to find buyers anywhere and pick the best price offered. Indigo would also market special microbes to make seeds more productive, and farmers could enter a program to sell what they produced from those at guaranteed, premium prices.

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