Separate Snake Oils From Real Products

Protect yourself: ask tough questions.

Published on: May 12, 2010
A company rep is coming to pitch a non-traditional growth enhancer to me next week,. I want to be prepared. So I've put together my acid test to helped determine what is a legitimate product that might add value , and what might be an additive with a grain of truth but little chance of helping the crop make one pound more, or of doing anything but taking money out of your wallet.

Here are the tough questions to ask. First, where has this product been tested? If it's been tested at universities, which ones, and by whom? Where they replicated trials or just demonstration plots?

Has the product been used in your geographical area? Has it been tried by some of your neighbors? Has it been tested in replicated on-farm trials, or just in strip trials where it's very hard to pick up actual yield differences since the background noise form experimental error can be so high,. In other words, perhaps a yield advantage is coming because the plot with ingredient 'x' happened to wind up on better ground, not because of product 'x.'

What do university sources say about the product? Have they had a chance to look at it? If not, why not?

Is the company selling it have a history in the field? Do they have a track record? What other products do they make? Is he company on the stock exchange, or is it probably held? Does it have solid financial backing?

In addition to questions, there are red flags to watch for when checking out these products.

High price- If the price is high and yet the analysis is common fertilizer, ask many questions. Fertilizer is fertilizer.

Low price- If it's only a few bucks per acre, why is it so cheap if it provides great benefits?

Do they endorse or discourage traditional practices- One scam years ago involved placing black powder on the ground and no nitrogen. Naturally, the corn yielded as if no nitrogen was applied.

If the company doesn't have a permanent office- be concerned. If it's only been around for a while, or if it's headquarters are upstairs in a rented building in a small town, that might be a definite red flag.

Test results- If you haven't heard of the university where the tests were done, ask more questions? Why weren't the tests done here? Have they been done on commercial farm crops in field size plots, or only on specialty crops in greenhouse settings?

Very low use rates- Herbicides are available at low use rates. But some products which are supposed to change soil properties have a hard time matching theory to reality at the rate they are applied.

Farmer testimonials- If they are people who have never heard of from places you've never heard of, you may want to discount their glowing endorsements.

Just remember, it's buyer beware on new products. Some are legitimate- they will stand the test of time. Others are efforts to generate a few quick books. Usually, they don't make it into the mainstream of production agriculture.