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Wonder products for the farm

The claims marketers make for some products seem too good to be true. Here are five signs that you may be looking at one of these “wonder products”

Readers long enough in the tooth may remember previous runs at this topic. But, there is a different twist now.

Herbicides and fertilizers have significant hoops to clear before being placed on the market. Fertilizers are sold by guaranteed percentages of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P205) and Potash (K20). 

But, many products appear that magically make the grain stand up straighter, have the vigour of a teenager, grow many more bushels and make you rich.

The new twist to this old tale is that changes have been made to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). In the past, companies making claims that their products would provide a yield increase or another beneficial effect had to prove those claims to CFIA. When a farmer asked me about product X, my first response was to ask for the CFIA registration number.

But, the requirement for corporations to register their products with CFIA has been removed. The marketplace now operates under the system of caveat emptor —buyer beware.

It has been like that in the U.S. for many years and the sky did not fall in so we will survive, but do be cautious. Young farmers use social media and information (and misinformation) flies around at lightning speed.

At the University of Saskat-chewan I kept a “wonder products” file. It was a foot thick (30 centimetres for the units-challenged folks). In my fourth year “capstone” course one class period was devoted to allowing the students to peruse that file and comment on the various products and how they were peddled.

Saline soils are a favorite target for wonder cures. In the 1980s we did a “Salt Patrol” job near Langham, Sask., just northwest of Saskatoon. As I was walking with the farmer in a saline patch near a slough I noticed a tote bag in the grass with a bit of product still in it. When I asked the farmer about it he said, “I leave it there to remind me never to fall for such a product again.”

In Manitoba saline soils are very visible after the requisite dry period to flush them to the top — as predicted in this column a couple of years ago.

Wonder products

There are some common threads to wonder products:

1. They cost about $15 to $25 per acre. In days gone by it was about $10 to $15 per acre. The rationale is that a farmer will pay that much for herbicide and even more for fertilizer, so why not pay that for my great Wonder Product?

2. Farmers’ requests to take a small quantity for a trial are refused. The sellers know they will only be in your pocket once — so they need to take a good handful while they can. “This is a proven product. There is no need for trials, we already know it works.”

3. It is being tested by the government or a university. I had a chap in my office who said his product was under test at the University of Manitoba. When I asked for the name of the researcher he squirmed but gave it to me. I said “excuse me,” picked up the phone and phoned the U. of M. The professor answered the phone — common at that time, rare today. He said he had a sample in his office but had done nothing with it. I did not accept any product, as the salesman would then have told people I was testing it.

4. The salesman is often vague about what is in the product and how it works: “We don’t know how it works but it does.” And, there is no need for any more research, “We already know it works.”

5. Many new things appear in buoyant times — like now — when there are gobs of money on many farms.

Keep an open mind

When approached about any new product, my attitude was always to maintain an open mind and try to find out what it was all about and what objective information was available. In today’s world that is a much easier task than when I was teaching.

Micronutrients are sometimes the subject of new products, and those I definitely approach with an open mind. When I retired I was sure that there were many new things to be learned about micronutrients. I think often of a wheat plot at the base of Mt. Meru in Tanzania. On that soil, a particular variety of wheat that was up for release would not grow without addition of manganese.

Research on micronutrients is not rewarding because so many negative results are obtained. When a specific micronutrient is needed in such small quantities, the particular crops and soils where it is most needed can be hard to find.

In general a “blanket” application of many micros is suspect. Each nutrient has its own particular form and use — blanket placement and timing of a mix of many micronutrients is suspect.

So, in this new world, caveat emptor — buyer beware. †

About the author

Columnist

Les Henry

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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