Back to the Basics: Concept Agri-Tek uses bugs to renew soil and increase crop yield

Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Trey Curtis, President and CEO of Concept Agri-Tek in Charleston, Missouri
Tyler Graef

It’s true: for thousands of years, trees have grown naturally. Without synthetic fertilizer. Without the meddling of people. Without chemicals.

Instead, this is how we’ve gotten forests: leaves fall off trees. Microbes in soil break the leaves down. They turn into organic matter, which turns into phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium and other nutrients needed for plants to grow. The soil is healthy and does what it’s supposed to do: nurture life.

Instead, for the past 100 years in the U.S., we have tilled the ground, dousing it in pesticides and synthetic fertilizers containing high percentages of salt. The tilling has broken up not only the ground, but also the microflora, decreasing their amount. As a result, soil health has suffered.

This plant shows root growth after seven days of treatment using Concept Agri-Tek’s product, Biovate® XP.
Submitted photo.

For Concept Agri-Tek, however, innovation looks like going back to the basics.

The fertilizer technology company based out of Charleston, Missouri, works to break down plants in the original way, turning them back into organic matter through the use of biology. They identify and grow the biology, putting it in a consortium of bacteria and fungi that work together to promote optimum soil health. As compared with their competitors whose microbes take 60 to 90 days to come alive, through their use of researched technology, Concept Agri-Tek’s become alive within 10 to 15 minutes.

“Once the farmers get on the Concept Agri-Tek program, what we do is we see the organic matter rise in their soil, but we also see the available phosphorus and potassium and other micronutrients rise. Therefore, automatically, their recommendation for dry fertilizer goes down,” says Trey Curtis, Concept Agri-Tek owner and president. “So not only does that save them money, but that’s also better for their land, better for the environment.”

Curtis founded the Concept Agri-Tek operation in 2010. He had previously worked for Monsanto and Syngenta, but wanted to “bring innovative concepts to the farm” while flexing his entrepreneurial muscle. With a business model based around seed, Concept Agri-Tek — then known as Concept Ag — realized bringing biology to the commercial market was their niche and adapted accordingly.

Although he began as the sole employee, today Curtis employs a staff of 35 people, including biologists, chemists and agronomists. The company does business in all 50 states and in three countries, producing more than 50 products, including foliar fertilizers, biological products and root tech technologies.

Agri-Tek fills a gap by bringing innovative philosophies to the commercial market. Some of their products are organic; others are a mix of organic and commercial.

“We don’t just make technologies and sell the technology. We make the technologies and manage them through agronomics,” Curtis says. “And that’s been the big difference.”

The product Concept Agri-Tek is most known for is called “Buncha Bugs,” which literally is a bunch of bugs. With this product, microbes beneficial to the soil can be added to the soil, used foliar, added to liquid starter fertilizer programs or impregnated on dry fertilizer granules, according to the company’s website. It is guaranteed to help the crop mature earlier and increase organic matter, phosphorus and root mass. It is also guaranteed to help increase the overall size of the plant and its leaf tissue.

When a farmer comes to them as a potential client, Concept Agri-Tek performs a test on their soil to assess the best way to cultivate healthy soil on their farm. This not only helps the farmer, but also helps keep Concept Agri-Tek constantly innovating.

“We get the bulk of our ideas from farmers,” says Daniel Hensley, Concept Agri-Tek director of agronomy. “Everybody at Concept Agri-Tek comes from a farm. When we go out in the fields and we’re with our famers, we try to really pay attention to their needs, take their needs and turn that into reality. … We listen to the farmer, understand their needs and change our process or product or create a new one based on that. We are really, truly, farmer-driven.”

The results back this up: most advertisement for Concept Agri-Tek products has spread by word of mouth among farmers, Curtis says.

The business has been a boon to the city of Charleston, Missouri: Concept Agri-Tek employs 20 people out of their Charleston office, warehouse and production facility. Approximately half of those employees are from Charleston.

Curtis says Charleston is an ideal location for his 150,000 square-foot building and business because it is located centrally within the U.S. Logistically, being located in Charleston situates them within an hour of three major interstates, as well as in close proximity to five different states. The sandy soil in Southeast Missouri, too, is ideal for growing a variety of crops with which Concept Agri-Tek can then test products.

“I’ve seen extreme early-season vigor,” Nelson Byrd says of using Concept Agri-Tek’s products. Byrd is a seventh-generation farmer of Byrdland Farms, Inc., in Mississippi County. “There’s no question that early vigor translates into maximizing the potential with that crop. You’re able to amend the soil as needed in a way that’s more expedient than a dry-only fertilizer program. … They build on one season’s knowledge and apply it to the next.”

Concept Agri-Tek has no plans of slowing down anytime soon; each year, they roll out a couple of new products. They have new ideas they’re testing now.

“There are people who think outside the box,” Curtis says. “We don’t even have a box.”