Kalamazoo company grows with nature's newest industry

As the cannabis industry continues to grow around the country, entrepreneurs everywhere are beginning to get to work.

They're finding that aside from the obvious array of accessory- and retail-driven marketplaces, there is also room for agricultural businesses like Kalamazoo-based AgTonik, LLC fill support roles that aid in the growth of marijuana.

While not catering solely to cannabis growers, AgTonik fills a niche role for the industry through the manufacture of MLG-50, an organic compound that features fulvic acid. The use of the compound has proven to result in an increased yield of 20 percent, and faster cultivation times for growers regardless of whether they are using hydroponics or the application of plant-based soil amendments.

"Cannabis is certainly a vertical market for us because the ROI is so high with that product in particular, but hydroponics in general are an ideal market for us," says AgTonik CEO Andrew Bruex, who has a business degree from Western Michigan University, and whose company is a subsidiary of Mineral Logic, LLC.

"There is so much buzz right now about cannabis, but we see farming moving more indoors and going vertical and this is an ideal product for that industry as well," Bruex says. "I don’t think the growth of (indoor farming) is going to be any slower than the cannabis industry."

AgTonik, which pulls its nutrients from a mine the company owns in an undisclosed location in the southeastern United States, operates an 11,000 square-foot production facility in Kalamazoo and a 2,000 square-foot research and development lab in Portage. It supplies more than 100 farms and companies in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia. 

As it pertains to cannabis cultivation, however, Bruex and his business partner, AgTonik Chief Science Officer and President Ralf Ostertag, view the industry as a modern-day gold rush. "We are selling the pick axes and shovels," Bruex says.

Given the nature of supporting an industry that remains illegal on the federal level and is only legal in nine states as it pertains to adult recreational usage, Ostertag and Bruex made sure they had their ducks in a row before going to market, and just recently began working with a distributor in Florida who is working with the legal states on the company’s behalf.

Bob Hendricks, an attorney for Grand Rapids firm CannaLex that specializes in marijuana law, doesn’t see an issue with what AgTonik is doing as it supports the burgeoning industry, and says that even if things change in America under the new administration, and for example, the Cole Memos were repealed, thus increasing the likelihood of a federal crackdown in the states-driven industry, he would expect a business like AgTonik to continue to operate freely and without fear.

"Marijuana is a schedule I controlled substance and any marijuana-related activity is going to be against the law," Hendricks says. "Yet if a company was engaged in a business where they created a product that could also be used in commerce for lawful purposes, generally that product is not going to run afoul of the controlled substances act. 

"If the manufacturer of the product was explicitly marketing the product exclusively to marijuana growers, however, whether they grew in states that allowed it or didn’t allow it, I think then that kind of activity, could conceivably trigger potential criminal liability under the controlled substances act, which does make aiding and abetting and conspiracy also a crime."

Even if there was a federal crackdown on marijuana states, though, AgTonik has the future of indoor farming, and their non-cannabis clients both foreign and domestic to fall back on. With that in mind, the company is still banking on the future of the cannabis industry, and expects that if and when Michigan is added to the list of recreational legal states, that their business will "take off like wildfire."

"This is a real product, this is not just a product that has hype," Bruex says. "It’s the real deal from a chemical standpoint. Other people have products that include fulvic acid, so that in itself isn’t unique, but the minerals that are bound to our fulvic acid are highly dense and unique. Our product is a true nutrient enhancer."

Bruex says the company uses a proprietary process to extract the fulvic acid from clays where microbes have broken down prehistoric plant matter as much as 34 million years old into fulvic and humic acids, along with other constituents. AgTonik conditions the clays for up to two years, then extracts the fulvic minerals and organic acids with cold water and gravity filtration. 

"It’s Mother Nature doing the extraction, we don’t use elevated temperatures, pressures or chemicals in our proprietary process," Bruex says, adding that the high-grade concentrations extracted also lead to a major reduction in waste.

"We give back to the Earth, what we take out," he says. "All while helping the land, livestock, and plant growth."

For more information on AgTonik, please visit www.agtonik.com 

Ryan Boldrey is a freelance journalist and editor living in Kalamazoo. A Michigan native, he returned to his home state in 2016 after spending a decade working as a writer and editor in Colorado. He spends much of his time traveling to see live music and is an avid outdoor enthusiast and Michigan State sports fan.
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