Foo-foo farming and fabricated information

Watch out for vendors who sell fake or grossly overpriced products

Foo-foo farming and fabricated information

When you answer the telephone these days, many of the messages are nothing but fake claims. You are told that you owe Revenue Canada money, or that your credit or debit cards have been compromised. All of these things have happened to me in the last few years. I have also received police notices in the mail about paying traffic fines, speeding and parking tickets — all bogus.

On the computer, I have had stories about my great cash winnings or relatives that did not exist begging for money. You may also be aware that in January 2020 cattle producers in Saskatchewan lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudsters who gained access to their cellphones and hacked into their farm operating accounts.

There are also individuals in the Canadian Prairies that will sell you fake products. They use terms like Mother Nature, soil rejuvenator, beneficial bacteria, double yields, grain quality, sound practices, best fertilizers, sustainable systems, organic environments and so on.

No, there is nothing federally or provincially that stops them from selling fake or grossly overpriced products. Such salespeople can tell you wondrous stories, show you fantastic photographs, offer lots of testimonials and make all kinds of claims that they say will make you money.

When they tell you not to invite an agricultural specialist to your meetings with them that is a strong warning bell. That is because their “facts” may be challenged. The salespeople want to show you all kinds of testimonials but only in print, or in photographs or by video.

Federally, these foo-foo vendors must display the contents of their bags, boxes or plastic bottles on the container. They must display the nutrients.

A farm enterprise I was visiting in southern Saskatchewan was in the process of ordering foliar liquid micronutrients, specifically zinc and copper, from a source in the United States. When I demonstrated to them that the amount of zinc and copper in the five-gallon (20 litre) container was worth about 25 and 10 cents, respectively, they cancelled that major order. Based on the label, there was about a tablespoon of zinc sulphate and a half teaspoon of copper sulphate in the five-gallon container.

More scams

In another instance, I was asked to comment on a product for rejuvenating soil. This product was sold in 10-litre jugs and all it contained was extreme trace levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur and calcium. This product was enough to treat 100 acres of cropland and it cost around $50 a jug. The water in this jug, in essence, was so clean it could pass for drinking water.

Another scam involved a product that was a very dilute solution of phosphate and nitrogen, which was touted as a seed treatment. Six ounces of the product was enough to treat two bushels of unspecified seed. This product also had lots of disclaimers regarding yield or performance.

These foo-foo salespeople are out there and it is obvious they, and the companies they represent, make lots of money from farmers who fail to check the scientific facts.

In the last 20 or so years, I have been an expert witness in dozens of farm lawsuits, mostly on behalf of farmers, but sometimes on behalf of product applicators of major companies. I have yet to lose out on any of these litigations and I have some very interesting stories to tell.

Here is a story that stumped the lawyer and the companies involved. A few years back, a farmer on the southern Canadian Prairies turned all his 1,600-plus acres into growing a crop of yellow mustard. He purchased enough mustard seed for the 1,600 acres and ordered the herbicide and adjuvants for weed control.

The mustard germinated, however, large stands of the mustard failed to grow more than a few inches. In some of the photographs the farmer submitted to his lawyer, the mustard crop looked lush and normal. He blamed the general malaise of the crop on contaminated herbicide, which he claimed significantly damaged the mustard crop. Eight jugs of the herbicide adjuvant were supposedly contaminated with motor oil. However, bioassays of the contaminated jugs failed to reveal any herbicide that could have damaged the yellow mustard.

This farmer claimed in the million-dollar lawsuit against the chemical company that he would have expected 35 bushels of yellow mustard an acre, but all he harvested was around a bushel per acre for the whole 1,600 acres. This farmer even hired a consultant who toured his 1,600 acres of yellow mustard in the middle of the growing season. This consultant wrote up a very favourable multi-page report stating that, indeed, the would-be mustard grower had lost a 35-bushel-an-acre crop.

I was brought in two years into the litigation, and initially looking at the “good” and “bad” photographs of the yellow mustard fields, I was at a loss. After a couple of months, I asked the lawyer for the chemical company for the whole ball of wax, detailing all of this farmer’s operations, crop inputs, crop yield histories and crop sales.

No one, including the consultant, had checked the basic facts which were as follows:

  • No fertilizer of any kind had been applied to the cropland for at least five years, possibly for 10 years.
  • No soil test had even been done on any of the farmer’s cropland.
  • The average yield for yellow mustard in Canada is between 15 to 17 bushels per acre from regular growers in his farm area.
  • His previous yield of barley averaged three bushels an acre, three years earlier.
  • His rye crop yield on the 1,600 acres after a year of fallow was four bushels an acre, a tenth of the Prairie average yield a year previous to seeding the yellow mustard.

Adding up this record of farming, it was quite easy for me to conclude (and end the litigation) that based on his total lack of crop inputs and the yellow mustard yield he attained, one bushel an acre is precisely what should have been expected in total.

I could not believe in all that time it never occurred to anyone to look into the crop fertilizer inputs, soil tests and expected yields for that specific crop.

In conclusion, be wary of foo-foo vendors who are long on promises and short on facts. And if you believe you have a crop production problem not of your own doing, if you contemplate litigation, you must supply a complete record of all of the facts and avoid testimonials and opinions. Better still, see if you can arrive at a mutual agreement if a product problem does occur and avoid the usual long and costly litigation.

About the author

Contributor

Dr. Ieuan Evans is a forensic plant pathologist based in Edmonton, Alta. He can be reached at [email protected]

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