This soybean crop is off to a great start with high organic matter, no-till residue from last year's corn, and adequate moisture. Healthy soil management benefits soils of all kinds, on all slopes, and in all cropping systems.
Soil Health This soybean crop is off to a great start with high organic matter, no-till residue from last year's corn, and adequate moisture. Healthy soil management benefits soils of all kinds, on all slopes, and in all cropping systems. © Paige Buck, USDA-NRCS Illinois

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Accelerating the Regenerative Revolution: The Nature Conservancy invests in agri-tech firms to speed progress against ambitious soil health goals

By establishing portfolio of emerging companies targeting soil health, TNC aims to prime the pump for sustainable innovation across investment sectors

As investor interest coalesces around the potential of emerging agricultural technology (‘agri-tech’) to boost the sustainability of global food systems, a pioneering initiative from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) aims to encourage cross-sector commitment to innovations that target the specific issue of soil health.

TNC has commenced investments in a series of emerging agri-tech solutions that have the potential to accelerate adoption of regenerative agriculture management practices for the benefit of farmers, soil health, climate and biodiversity. TNC works with iSelect to identify companies developing innovative solutions and invests via the iSelect Fund.  

Commenting on the significance of the effort, TNC’s Director of Agricultural Innovation Renée Vassilos said: “Deteriorating soil health underpins many of the agricultural challenges facing us this century - from climate and biodiversity, to food security and freshwater. No other sector impacts the ground beneath our feet to the extent agriculture currently does.

“The science of soil health solutions is becoming more evident every day, but the pace of market-driven innovations has so far lagged the need for action. By putting our money where our mouth is we’re optimistic about the potential of our portfolio companies to accelerate solutions to the soil health challenge.”

TNC has invested in five emerging private companies that demonstrate strong potential to scale solutions across one or more of four priority areas of soil health: expanded use of cover crops; uptake of no-till practices; improved plant diversity achieved through cash crop rotations; and precise or more efficient crop input management. Initial investments include:

·       Growers Edge: A financial technology (fintech) company that delivers farm enterprise income assurance through data-driven products, solutions, and tools. The company reduces the financial exposure for farm operations adopting new technology or practices through warranty-backed crop plans and ag financing solutions.

·       Kula Bio The firm is developing a cost-effective biological nitrogen fertilizer that minimizes run-off. An alternative or partial replacement for synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has the potential for significant positive impact for farm profitability and the environment.

·       Pattern Ag The company provides soil microbiome analysis and recommendations for input optimization on farm. Focused on specific pest and disease pressures faced by corn and soybean farmers, the firm recommends what to purchase and application solutions for when and where they are needed.

·       Stony Creek Colors By developing sustainable, plant-based dyes such as indigo for the textile, cosmetics and food markets, the firm is working directly with growers to bring greater profitability and improve soil health with an alternative row crop to improve the market driven options for farmers to diversify crop rotations.

·       SwarmFarm The autonomous, robotic farming technologies developed by the firm are enabling effective precision application of nutrient and crop-protection inputs. The tool (robot plus developer ecosystem for attachments)  for row crop farming operations is focused on optimizing herbicide and fertilizer application for farm profitability and environmental benefit.

Michael Doane, TNC’s global managing director for food and freshwater systems, adds: “Investments in and collaborations with early-stage agri-tech companies will help make the task of managing for soil health more operationally efficient and profitable for farmers. The initiative complements our collective efforts to accelerate the shift to a regenerative, nature-positive production model.”

Elaborating on the thinking behind this pilot, iSelect Fund’s CEO Carter Williams said: “The best innovations improve soil health and farmer economics; better economics accelerate the adoption cycle, investor returns, and positive environmental outcomes.”

To read more about TNC’s work to improve soil health and promote regenerative agricultural practices, visit: https://www.nature.org/en-us/what-we-do/our-insights/perspectives/rethinking-soil-reinvesting-in-our-foundations/

Individual donors and philanthropic organizations that are interested in helping TNC expand this project should contact soil_health_investing@TNC.ORG.  

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About iSelect Fund

iSelect Fund Management, LLC (iSelect) is a venture fund manager focused on critical global issues where innovation drives impact.  We invest in early and growth-stage companies in sustainable agriculture, food and healthcare, where solving hard problems can provide positive returns and improve our world.  For more information, please visit www.iselectfund.com

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.