by Jennifer Vincent Kiel, Michigan Farmer, April 2015
Article posted with permission from Jennifer Vincent Kiel, Editor of Michigan Farmer.

Key Points

  • The IQhub is 9,500 square feet devoted to ag education.
  • Groups are invited to visit, and there is no cost.
  • Visits can be designed around school curriculums.

Burt Henry says he’s yet to have someone walk out of the IQhub and say they didn’t learn anything. That’s exactly the intent of this 9,500-square-foot learning center Henry manages at the Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers headquarters in St. Johns. For many years, the story of agriculture from its early beginnings to today’s modern practices has gone untold.

Agriculture has increasingly been the mark for anti-agriculture activists. It has prompted many agricultural advocacy groups to assemble in recent years, determined through marketing and outreach to fight back, better educate consumers and squash mistruths.

The Bancroft family, owner of AgroLiquid, has taken that crusade to a new level and invested heavily in the new IQhub. It provides a hands-on learning experience through 23 exhibits that encompass everything from Squanto teaching Pilgrims to use fish to enrich the soil to the 4Rs — applying the right fertilizer source at the right rate, right time and right place.

Using computers, touchpads, video and other modern interactive techniques, visitors have plenty to do and see. At one of the exhibits, a sign describes Justus von Liebig’s law of the minimum, which states that growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource or the limiting factor. Next to the sign is a giant wooden barrel with different stave lengths filled with water.

Henry says it shows just how the capacity of a barrel is limited by the shortest stave (water flows out), in the same way that a plant’s growth is limited by the nutrient in shortest supply.

Another exhibit showcases nutrient uptake. Lights illuminate the plant at different plant stages when nutrients are needed. Michigan’s crop diversity is also an exhibit, as a tractor is shown in an apple orchard. “That’s really designed to show how we have everything from apples to zucchini in Michigan,” Henry says.

Nearby, a round theater provides seating for viewing educational and entertaining videos, while the three-quarter walls have corn growing on top, illustrating the growth cycle.

Henry hesitated when asked which was his favorite exhibit, but eventually responded, “That’s a really good question … probably the Dirt on Soil. It has eight interactive monitors. Half look at soil health, testing and deficiencies, while the other half challenge visitors with ag trivia. There are just so many things a visitor can learn from here.” All the exhibits are original and built from scratch, focusing on the plant side of agriculture. “There’s nothing else out there like this,” Henry says. “We worked with a company called Zentx Media out of Freeland to fabricate the exhibits. The hands-on construction took close to two years.”

The last exhibit, a tractor simulator, was to arrive in late March. “Visitors will be able to get into a cab, and it will demonstrate
how GPS works in planting a field. They will then be challenged to see how well they do planting compared to the GPS. In the end, it will give a percentage of how good of a job the driver did versus GPS. It will really showcase technology and just how precise it is.”

What color will the tractor be? “It will be green,” Henry says with a smirk.

Group interest

Groups of all kinds, including schools, Boy and Girl Scouts, churches, 4-H and FFA, have made the IQhub a destination. “I tell people you should allow a minimum of an hour and a half for a visit, and that will likely be more once the tractor simulator gets here, which takes about 3.5 minutes for each person to experience,” Henry says. He works with groups to design a visit to fit specifi objectives. “I work to incorporate visits with their curriculum, taking into consideration how much time they have,” Henry says. “We work together to build an agenda. We’ve had AP biology classes, preschoolers, Lansing Community College and Michigan State University students. There’s everything here from biology, chemistry, history, social studies and math.”

The hub also presents the many career opportunities in agriculture, and it’s all free to visitors. Ag industry leaders have more than embraced the concept. Michigan Farm Bureau’s Michigan Foundation for Agriculture, GreenStone Farm Credit Services, the Michigan Potato Industry Commission and Spartan Insurance have created a fund to supply grants to defray transporation costs. “The idea was to make this accessible to everyone in the state,” Henry says.

In June, in conjunction with 4-H Exploration Days, three counties from northern Lower Michigan are making a side trip from their Lansing destination to visit the IQhub. These groups and other summer visitors will have an added bonus of being able to also visit the company’s 750-acre research farm — one of the largest research farms dedicated to fertilizer research.

The IQhub is also part of a new plan to develop a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program into Northgate Elementary School in St. Johns. “Agriculture will become integrated into their curriculum, and the district is working with Central Michigan University on
the instructional side and MSU on the technical side,” Henry says. “The IQhub will be part of that, as well as the research farm for data collection, trials and other studies. If we start talking about agriculture at a younger age, these children will hopefully gain a much more educated understanding of agriculture as they become adults.”

By the end of summer, Henry hopes to have a menu of sorts, allowing group leaders options on areas of focus with time parameters. “When a person leaves the IQhub, it is our hope they have a better understanding of where their food comes from and how it gets there,” Henry says. “We are borrowing the land and resources from our grandchildren. We need to leave it in a fashion that will allow farmers to continue to feed an expanding population.”

In addition to Henry, the hub is staffed by two MSU ag education students, Rebecca Gulliver of Breckenridge and Kelbie Stout of Ionia. Henry was an FFA instructor and agriscience teacher for 27 years at Alma. “I am very fortunate to start my second career in a fun job,” he says. “There’s something different every day — you never know what to expect with kids. We’ve had some nice turnouts, and I expect it to get busier.”

The IQhub is located at AgroCulture
Liquid Fertilizers
, 1130 S. DeWitt Rd., St. Johns. To make a group reservation, contact Henry at 989-227-3887 or burt.henry@agroliquid.com.