Top Crop Manager

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Be sure of fertilizer claims

June 13, 2016 - Producers should be wary of unproven claims of fertilizer performance, says an Alberta Agriculture and Forestry (AF) crop specialist.

"In agriculture, there's no shortage of products that guarantee tremendous response for relatively low cost," says Harry Brook, crop specialist at AF's Ag-Info Centre in Stettler. "Often, these products overpromise and under-deliver. A few years ago, the federal government changed requirements for fertilizer registration so that they only have to be proven safe, and not necessarily effective. This opened the door to many of these 'miracle' products."

No matter what the fertilizer is that is being sold, there are a number of warning flags to look for when it comes to the claimed benefits. "One of the most obvious is when the product's claims are supported by user testimonials rather than by scientific results. No details are then provided to back up the claims of the quoted users."

Another sign to be wary of is the use of charts or bar graphs that highlight only the top part of the graph to exaggerate the actual difference between treatments. "These rarely mention if the difference is significant or how trials were conducted. There is no explanation if the results are repeatable, or any indication as to how reliable the information is. No background or statistical measures are provided to support the graphs. If you are putting good money into a product, you want more than a five per cent chance of it actually making a difference."

Brook says to also watch for research claims taken out of context. "Not all research is transferable, and not all research is good research. It's easy to take some research results from one part of the world and transpose it on another. For example, someone could try and take research on fertilizers on soils where farming has been going on for centuries to justify the use of products on soils that have been farmed for a century or less. Do you think soil nutrients might be different in the two soils, developed under radically different climates? The soil forming processes for the areas on can make radically different soils with different characteristics and nutrient levels."

Regardless of the promises made or the visions of great improvements, it is important to always question the claims. "If you are interested in the product, try it out on a small field. Try it on a strip trial. That is where you use the product in question in several strips across a field. Keep track of where the treated strips are and monitor those strip and then measure the results. Don't go by colour or appearance, but look at the yield as you don't get paid for anything else. For example, it is well known spraying iron on a crop will get it to turn dark green. It doesn't necessarily translate into yield but it does make a noticeable visual difference for a while. However, if it doesn't add any extra yield, why do it?"

The old saw that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, are words to live by. "Ultimately, it is up to you, the farming consumer, to judge if a product has value. Use critical thinking and testing and measure the results to prove to yourself if the product claims are true. Don't be dazzled by a sales pitch."


June 14, 2016  By Top Crop Manager


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