Not Your Granddaddy’s Fertilizer

Published online: Aug 02, 2019 Feature Tyrell Marchant, editor
Viewed 130 time(s)
This article appears in the August/September 2019 issue of Sugar Producer

Every company in every industry claims to be innovative. Even those who market themselves as espousing old-school values or tried-and-true products have a vested interest to show their customers and the public how forward-thinking they are in their products and practices.

For the folks at Actagro, innovation is infused into everything they do; it’s not just talk. The company was founded in 1981 in Fresno, Calif., where it is still headquartered. Over the years—and particularly in the last decade—that innovation has fueled phenomenal growth. In 2008, Actagro opened a new production facility in Osceola, Ark., to better supply a growing customer base in the eastern U.S. Sales have expanded into Australia, Europe and Asia. In April 2019, the company opened the Actagro Technology and Innovation Center, known to employees simply as the ATIC, the crown jewel of what Actagro has come to stand for.

It’s not that Actagro discovered or invented some fancy new material. In fact, leonardite, the soft, black, carbon-based mineral from which Actagro’s products are extracted, has been used by the plant and soil health industry for decades as a source of humic and fulvic acid products. What the company has done is extract more out of that leonardite than anyone has ever been able to. The industry standard is to extract fulvic and humic acid, which leaves behind roughly 50 percent of the raw material. Actagro has made its name based on a patented process whereby it also extracts humin, utilizing upwards of 85 percent of the raw leonardite ore. Once the humin is extracted, it goes through six more extractions, which result in dark black liquid solutions called Actagro Organic Acids.

“There are five main areas where we have products and are doing research,” says John Breen, senior director of research and development. “They are nutrient efficiency, nutrient management, soil health, plant biostimulants and stress mitigation. Supporting all that is new chemistry. The core of all our research and product development is the soil.”

The purpose of Actagro products isn’t simply to improve a particular crop’s yield in a particular year. Rather, the hope is to improve soil biology and physiology over the long run while at the same time improving a plant’s ability to utilize nutrients and cope with abiotic stresses (i.e., high soil salinity, lack or excess of water, heat and cold).

“In this business, you have to prove everything,” says sales representative Tom Hopkins, whose pre-Actagro career was spent as an agronomic chemist. “It’s about more than selling a product. Agronomics do matter. I’ve had growers put me through the wringer, but after a couple years doing trials with those guys, they love and trust our products.

“I truly am a soil scientist,” Hopkins continues, “and I’m going to give you recommendations based on that. We’ve gained credibility with growers because we’re actually trying to help them, not just hawking our products.”

What Actagro’s science and ethos comes down to, in the end, is developing healthy soils for more profitable growers. The new research facility—the ATIC—is a testament to that. It’s a gleaming, beautiful laboratory with greenhouses attached to it, and to a man, every scientist and agronomist there repeats some form of the mantra that nothing they do matters if growers can’t apply the science successfully in their fields. It’s clear that the goal really is to develop products that work with, not against nature to give growers their best shot at success.

“Our technology produces great fertilizers,” says Hopkins. “But it’s not your granddaddy’s fertilizer; it’s more than that. We are truly trying to develop the best growing medium we can in these growers’ soils. The healthier your soils, the better crop production you’ll have, and you’ll be able to use less fertilizer, less water and fewer pesticides.

“With this new facility, we’re just touching the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole big portion underneath we’re still going to learn.”

 

To learn more about Actagro’s full line of products, including Liquid Humus, Actagro Organic Acids, Structure and Katalyst, visit www.actagro.com.