Grain Craft contracts for sustainable, IP wheat

by Josh Sosland
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Indigo head quarters
Indigo Ag headquarters in Boston.
CHATTANOOGA, TENNESSEE, U.S. — Grain Craft and Indigo Ag, Inc. have signed a supply agreement under which Grain Craft in 2018 will purchase 1 million bushels of identity preserved Indigo brand wheat. The companies said the wheat will be sustainably produced and will meet enhanced baking and milling quality standards.

 

Boston-based Indigo Ag, which markets its wheat under the Indigo brand, said it is contracting with hundreds of growers and paying them a 43c a bushel premium over commodity wheat. After harvest, the wheat will be delivered to Grain Craft and milled into flour for baking industry, food service and pizza customers.

“At Grain Craft, we care about our flour — the quality, the way it’s produced, and the farmers who produce it,” said Alan Koenig, chief supply chain officer of Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Grain Craft. “We are partnering with Indigo to produce traceable and sustainable flour at scale. This is a new way of doing business that’s responsive to the needs of our customers.”

Koenig noted that in the three years since the creation of Grain Craft through Milner Milling’s acquisition of Cereal Food Processors, the new company has been working with Kansas State University, the Kansas Wheat Alliance and breeders to improve Kansas wheat quality.

“Indigo ag has given us an avenue toward growing approved varieties to help improve milling and baking qualities in Kansas,” he said.

The pairing of Indigo and Grain Craft was serendipitous. Reuben McLean, the company’s senior director of quality and regulatory, happened on an Indigo Ag booth in August while attending Wheat U, a trade show aimed at helping wheat growers enhance their operations.

“The Indigo guys came to our offices and spoke with us,” Koenig said. “The more we talked, the more it made sense.”

 

Indigo CEO
In an Indigo Ag greenhouse are David Perry, CEO and Geoffrey von Maltzahn, founder and chief innovation officer. 
 
Indigo said it uses naturally occurring plant microbes, together with software and data tools, to increase yields of wheat seed varieties without the application of chemicals or fertilizer.

 

“By using sophisticated genomic sequencing and computational bioinformatics, Indigo has assembled an enormous database of genomic information from these microbes,” the company said. “We apply algorithms and machine learning to this database to predict which microbes are most beneficial to the plant’s health, applying these specially selected microbes to crops in the form of a seed coating. The resulting seed treatments complement a plant’s natural processes to improve health and development across each phase of life while boosting crop yields.”

Indigo pre-treatment of wheat seeds with the microbes is aimed at maximizing yields and obviating the needs for fertilizer and other treatment.

The company said it seeks to support a Grain Craft commitment to minimize environmental impact and conserve natural resources.

Koenig said Indigo has been focused principally on sustainability, enhancing yields and improving grower economics. With the Grain Craft partnership, baking and milling quality also are squarely in focus, he said.

“We love high test weight for milling, but this also focuses on stability, absorption and protein quality, not just quantity,” he said.

The companies said that better aligning agricultural practices with consumer preferences will address a number of current challenges, including agricultural profitability, environmental sustainability and consumer health.

“Indigo’s goal is to increase farmer profitability using practices that are consistent with environmental sustainability and consumer health,” said David Perry, president and chief executive officer of Indigo. “Customers are increasingly willing to pay for improved quality, improved environmental sustainability, and traceability back to the farm. This sort of specialization is good for everyone involved: the grower, the consumer, and the environment.”

The program initially will be limited to hard red winter wheat, which will be grown in the Southwest from southern Nebraska to the Texas panhandle. The wheat will be ground in Grain Craft mills in Wichita and Los Angeles. The flour milled from the Indigo wheat will be blended.

“We want to double and then triple production in the years ahead,” Koenig said.

Grain Craft enjoyed success with a somewhat similar program launched several years ago in Idaho, Koenig said. The program there caught on and markedly improved wheat quality in the state.

Ultimately, the Grain Craft/Indigo Ag initiative is part of milling industry-wide efforts to enhance wheat quality, Koenig said.

“The industry is working together to right this quality ship,” he said. “In Idaho, we launched a program and others followed. It was a case of rising tide lifts all boats. We think that will happen here.”

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