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In Praise Of The Magic Rock

I just glanced through 7,600 on-line articles talking about the virtues of a crop enhancement product called Nitrozyme. Actually there were 7,599 articles, mostly from the company and user testimonials, describing how beneficial it was for field crop production, greenhouse crops, specialty crops (like marijuana) and other uses. I only saw one article written in 1990 published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science that said the seaweed extract that contained a plant growth regulator didn’t work.

Then I searched the name of Ross McKenzie, Alberta Agriculture soil scientist and he only had 3,300 on-line articles, but of all those 3,299 seemed to imply he knew what he was talking about, and there was only one written by a noted Canadian farm writer, yours truly, which suggested the guy was a dinosaur. If you want to read that article, it was a zinger of a blog column I wrote and you can find it on theGrainewsweb-site at: www.grainews.ca. Click on my blog on the left-hand side. It’s the one called “Sane voice of science or moanings of a dinosaur” posted December 14, 2010. It was a dandy. A lot of people, except for Ross McKenzie, said they got a kick out of it. If you don’t have Internet let me know and I’ll either mail you a copy or read it to you over the phone. Gosh, it was a corker.

But, seriously, as a bit of background, McKenzie, who is a well known soil scientist with Alberta Agriculture, spoke at a farm conference and had some criticisms about a number of new farming technologies — practices and products that are prancing around as being a great fix for whatever ails you. But in McKenzie’s view some/many are not backed by good old fashion evidence-based science. The products or the farming practices haven’t been thoroughly evaluated by an independent third party — haven’t been held against the candle of scientific objectivity — to see if they actually work.

In case the point got lost in my clever blog, the key message I heard from McKenzie is for farmers to apply critical thinking when it comes to the ever-growing array of crop nutrient and soil amendment products, and newer farming technology such as variable rate applications and controlled traffic farming.

With some of these products and new farming practices you can lay out a lot of money, based solely on the word of the guy selling the product or service, telling you this really works. I’m sure Philip Kives of Winnipeg who created K-Tel in the 1960s made a few bucks off products that didn’t work quite as well at home as they did on the television commercials (and I have a Veg-O-Matic and Popiel’s Pocket Fisherman to prove it).

McKenzie’s message was look before you leap and think before you reap to see if this product, or practice or service makes sense or has any independent, Western Canadian-based science behind it. And I think that is an important and valid message. We’re seeing fewer and fewer independent research dollars being invested in independent evaluation, and when McKenzie retires sometime in the next 20

years, I’m not sure who will be there to ring the alarm bell.

Which brings me back to my first reference about Nitrozyme. I didn’t even know this product was still around. But I remember doing a story for our sister publicationCountry Guideabout 20 years ago about the rise and fall of the Nitrozyme empire. I remember talking to the fellow who was promoting it at that time and they had “stacks of research” supporting the effectiveness of the foliar product designed to increase crop yields. I talked to farmers who said it worked, but I couldn’t find any independent scientists who found much benefit in the treatment. I thought Nitrozyme went out the door with a big fizzle.

Maybe there is a product out there today that truly is new and improved and can grow barley on a boulder, but again, the only

critical thinking I found amid a mountain of hype for old Nitrozyme in a quick Internet search was the October 1990 article in theJournal of Plant Science.

So is it possible that a product supported with little or no independent scientific research could still be on the market? Here is one last Hart story on the subject. My dad, who died about three years ago, had increasingly worse arthritis later in life. My mom tells me, a few years ago, word went out across the land in their Eastern Ontario farming community there was man near Kemptville, just south of Ottawa, who had discovered a special ore — probably on his land — that if you carried one of these rocks in your pocket it would ease your arthritis.

One of the neighbour’s had called my dad to say “it was the honest to God truth, Roy, this rock really works.” So my Dad and my brother, who probably also had a few aches and pain went one Sunday morning to this man’s place, and there was a quite a line up at his door to buy one of these rocks for $1 each.

Well, my dad carried this rock in his pocket for some time, but he could barely walk when he died, and sadly my brother died from health complications other than arthritis, so I can’t ask either if they thought the rock really worked. I have to draw my own conclusions.

But I am here to tell you, I am arthritis free today, and I think it’s thanks to that magic rock and a hip replacement seven years ago. I would consider selling this magic rock for $25, but wait — that’s not all. If you act today I’ll throw in a Veg-O-Matic and a litre of Nitrozyme, too.

And don’t bother asking McKenzie if he thinks there in anything in the ground that can cure arthritis. He may know soil, but he’s not a geologist and he knows nothing about magic rocks.

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary,Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

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With some of these products and new farming practices you can lay out a lot of money, based solely on the word of the guy selling the product or service

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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