Be skeptical about claims about ‘miracle’ fertilizers

Fertilizers no longer have to be proven effective in order to be registered

The only way to judge fertilizer claims is increased yield — not by testimonials or unsubstantiated claims, says a provincial crop specialist.
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Producers should be wary of unproven claims about fertilizer performance, says a provincial crop specialist.

“In agriculture, there’s no shortage of products that guarantee tremendous response for relatively low cost,” said Harry Brook. “Often, these products overpromise and underdeliver. 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.”

There are a number of warning flags to look for when it comes to claims about benefits.

“One of the most obvious is when the product’s claims are supported by user testimonials rather than by scientific results,” said Brook. “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.”

Also watch for research claims taken out of context.

“It’s easy to take some research results from one part of the world and transpose them on another,” said Brook. “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.

“The soil-forming processes for the areas can make radically different soils with different characteristics and nutrient levels.”

Always question the claims and if interested in a product, try a strip trial.

“Keep track of where the treated strips are and monitor those strips 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?”

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