The United States is the world’s largest producer and exporter of food thanks in large part to the innovation of America’s farmers who have learned to grow more with less land and fewer inputs. At the same time, America’s agriculture sector is a significant contributor of greenhouse gasses, emitting an estimated 671.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions in 2021, more than 10 percent of all America’s emissions that year. Agriculture startup Andes is addressing this issue and believes that it has created a way to help farmers effectively reduce their carbon footprint while maintaining crop yields.
Andes has pioneered a technique that uses microorganisms to permanently remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The company works with partnering farmers to add beneficial microorganisms to the soil around seeds like corn and wheat. As those plants grow, the microorganisms grow on the plant’s roots and accelerate the natural carbon conversion already happening. The carbon is converted into minerals that then are pushed deeper into the soil through rainfall.
“Andes microorganisms are naturally occurring in soils and benefit plant health,” the company explains. “With science and technology, we harness what microorganisms have been doing for billions of years. By turning carbon dioxide into minerals, the carbon is locked for thousands of years, providing a permanent and safe way to reduce CO₂ levels in the atmosphere.”
Through its Andes Carbon Program, the company is partnering with the agricultural industry to put its solution to work. This program is one of the simplest and most profitable carbon reduction programs available to farmers. Andes explains:
“The program has been running for 3 years, covering more than 75,000 acres in the US Midwest. Farmers enrolled in the program benefit from an extra revenue stream of $10 per enrolled acre, without changing their farming practices and with no investment. This Program provides a one-year agreement with the option to re-enroll at the end of each season.”
When partnering farmers get access to Andes’ microorganism technology, they also reap a harvest of co-benefits. As carbon is turned into minerals, the quality of the surrounding soil is improved. The result is a higher nutrient content for growing plants, a decrease in plant diseases, and better water drainage through the soil.
The program is a win for all involved. Andes gets plenty of land to keep testing the microorganism process, farmers benefit from an additional revenue source that does not impact their day-to-day operations, and environmentalists can celebrate an effective carbon reduction solution.
“I am excited to begin my third year working with Andes,” said Jeremy Rittenbach, a farmer in North Dakota. “Their microbial product is easy to use and provides me the flexibility I look for when trying a new product. It is great to be part of a carbon program in agriculture that only requires a one-year term agreement, seamlessly integrates with existing agricultural practices, and guarantees payment at the end of the year.”
The company is also addressing one plight that has challenged the carbon removal industry for years, which is monitoring, reporting, and verification. While the prospect of carbon removal projects is exciting, measuring their impact has proved to be extremely difficult which has led to scrutiny and shaken investor confidence. Andes is addressing this issue with the release of the world’s first Microbial Carbon Mineralization (MCM) methodology. The methodology provides a blueprint to quantify and credit Microbial Carbon Mineralization (MCM), which will allow carbon credits to be independently audited and verified by third parties.
Andes has been attracting the attention of environmental technology investors. The company initially raised $38 million from investors but went through a 2023 funding round that brought in an additional $15 million. Andes is putting the additional funding to work by expanding access to carbon removal and continuing the development of new agriculture technologies.
Farmers are America’s first environmentalists and are critical to addressing climate change. Effectively doing so will not be done through expensive regulations but through innovative solutions like those being created by companies like Andes.
Kelvey Vander Hart is a native Iowan, a member of the American Conservation Coalition, and a communications specialist at Reason Foundation.