The Michigan-based company AgroLiquid provides liquid fertilizer to boost the production of a wide variety of crops. It also conducts research and shares its agronomic expertise with farmers and its more than 250 retail partners across the United States. In this interview, cofounder Troy Bancroft talks about the company’s family roots and its many branches.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about how AgroLiquid was started.
Troy Bancroft: My father-in-law, Douglas Cook, and I started the company in 1983. My father-in-law was a brilliant man who was always looking forward for next thing in agriculture in terms of plant nutrition or fertility products. Michigan, where we are based, is second only to California in its diversity of crops because of the Great Lakes. There was a need for a commodity product that could be used in both fertigation through drip lines and in various transplant solutions for fruits and vegetables.
It was a difficult time to start a crop input company. There was a commodity surplus, so the government was paying farmers not to plant 20 percent of their crops. There was also double-digit inflation, which made things difficult for the ag economy. We didn’t have any money, and in the first 5 years, we struggled a fair amount. It wasn’t really until the drought of 1988, which really challenged U.S. farmers, that growers were motivated to investigate how to improve their yields in new ways. I can remember driving down Interstate Highways I-70 and I-80 and seeing farmers harvesting the grass in the medians of the highways to feed their animals. Every bushel of grain and every ton of forage crop was needed to maintain their herds’ health. That adversity led farmers to invest more in their crops, because tight supply made them more valuable and allowed them to take advantage of high-quality fertilizers like ours. It was a pivotal time in our company’s history.
Irrigation Leader: What roles do your family members have in the company?
Troy Bancroft: My three sons have joined me in running the company. My oldest, who was born within 10 days of the company’s incorporation, serves as the CEO now that I’ve transitioned to leading the board of directors. Another son oversees production, and the third is in charge of employee engagement. Each brings his own qualities to the company. People in agriculture often grow up in a family business. If you grow up with each other in the business, it allows for a lot of forbearance and forgiveness, which benefits the company. I’m proud of the way they work with each other and respect each other and me.
Irrigation Leader: Please tell us about the company’s products and services.
Troy Bancroft: We provide liquid fertilizer for a variety of crops, from asparagus to zinnias. We have all 13 essential elements needed to grow a plant—primary nutrients, secondary nutrients, and micronutrients. Our 26 products are made with combinations of those 13 essential elements. They are enhanced with flavanol-based polymers that allow the fertility to enter the plant more quickly, with less resistance, and without any harm to the plant. There’s some complex chemistry that goes into that, and we’re always developing new products to optimize yield and bolster the nutritional value of crops.
As good as our products are, they are equaled by the agronomic expertise of our salespeople and agronomy staff. I’m proud of how thoroughly we educate and train our folks in the best use of our products so that they can give farmers the best results. We also do a lot of training with our retail partners on how to use our products and on agronomics in general. Our mission, which we further through our product line, our agronomic expertise, and our customer service, is always to prosper the farmer.
Irrigation Leader: Who are your customers, and where are they located?
Troy Bancroft: We really have two groups of customers: the retail partners that we sell our products through and the end users, or farmers. We have shipped products to all 50 states, Canada, Mexico, and Belize. We provide plant nutrition for coffee in Hawaii and ship some products to Alaska, but the bulk of our business is in the Great Plains, the Corn Belt, and the Great Lakes region. We do quite extensive business in the Pacific Northwest, California, and the West as well.
Irrigation Leader: Would you discuss fertigation products?
Troy Bancroft: Almost all our products can be used in fertigation, which refers to injecting fertilizer in liquid form through existing irrigation systems. Our clean formulations mix well, so they don’t clog pivots, emitters, or drip tape. That is a big selling point. We emphasize that you need to apply the right amount of the right product at the right time to get the best results. Based on a soil test or tissue test, you can apply only the nutrients that are needed, avoiding overapplication. A soil test for us is like a blood test for a doctor. It enables a grower to find out what the plant needs before, and sometimes during, the growing cycle to achieve the best results. Fertigation opens the door to timing and placement to get the best result.
Irrigation Leader: Please discuss your research facility.
Troy Bancroft: We have our own research facility, the North Central Research Station, which is located in Michigan. We also do contract research across the United States, because there are some crops, like cotton, that we can’t grow here in the north. In addition to testing the efficacy of our products, we conduct research to try to find the best management practices for farmers’ operations. Our research is replicated more than three times and statistically analyzed, so our data are research proven and farmer trusted.
Irrigation Leader: How do you reach people with your educational programs?
Troy Bancroft: We do training in the field, at conferences, and at other events. When I say in the field, I mean that we literally dig up dirt and examine plants and roots. We also have an AgroExpo each summer that has had over 3,000 attendees. It’s an outside trade show that we host at our research facility for the benefit of production farming. It allows people to come see the newest and most innovative things going on in the industry. We also put some short educational videos on YouTube to show people things like how to use potassium on cotton with our product Sure‑K.
For schoolchildren and the general public, we have a learning center called the IQ Hub. Prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic, we had more than 12,000 students come through each year. We try to teach them about how farmers are trying to develop and provide safe, abundant, affordable food for consumers. Many people don’t understand what a farmer does. In my high school 45 years ago, 9 out of 10 of my buddies either worked on a farm or came from a farm. Today, that figure is less than 2 percent. It is our job as agriculturalists to educate others and make them advocates, not adversaries.
Irrigation Leader: What are some of the top challenges the fertilizer industry is facing today?
Troy Bancroft: Like everybody in our industry today, we are facing supply-chain-management issues. The ag industry was hit hard because it is highly cyclical. In agriculture, you must provide your products and services when they are needed. Supply chain issues have affected the whole industry, but we feel like we are prepared, going into this next season, to provide our retail partners with the supply of products they need.
Another challenge is to be good stewards of natural resources. I believe in responsible nutrient management, which means applying the right amount of nutrients to the soil and being cognizant of runoff. We have to be forward thinkers and consider what we’re doing to conserve water, conserve soil, and watch the watershed.
Irrigation Leader: What should every farmer know about AgroLiquid?
Troy Bancroft: We have premium products that are readily assimilated into the plant and that mix well with other products. We can provide advice to help farmers and retail partners make the best decisions in whatever they’re doing. We have over 250 retail partners across North America. We have a vested interest in partnering with them to do the best job we can.
Irrigation Leader: What is your vision for the future of the company?
Troy Bancroft: We want to continue to be a recognized leader in innovative agriculture. For more than 35 years, we have been on a mission to engineer the best plant nutrition products while safeguarding the crop, the soil, and the environment. We try to do things that are good for our industry as a whole as opposed to good just for AgroLiquid.