Agriculture News

Verify soil enhancement claims, say experts

Published on 03.28.2019 by Richard Kamchen

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Get a second opinion about products that promise soil enhancement benefits or risk being sold a bill of goods, experts warn.

“You can walk around an ag show... and hear pitches on dubious claims in every aisle,” says Thom Weir, an agronomist with Farmers Edge.

He says farmers need to be more diligent about their purchases of fertilizers or soil supplements in light of 2013 amendments to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's fertilizer regulations, which lifted regulatory requirements for the efficacy and quality of fertilizer products.

“Anyone — not just fertilizer companies or crop input retailers — can make any claims they want about the efficacy of their products,” University of Manitoba soil scientist Don Flaten says. “And in many cases, it’s difficult to assess the validity of the claims before or even after the product has been purchased.

Independent analysis

Flaten encourages farmers to seek third-party verification from peer-reviewed research papers or a public research institution, and/or a rigorous, replicated on-farm test that can be statistically evaluated.

Weir adds there are independent consultants who are convinced of claims with little or no credible evidence.

“And because there is little independent research being done these days, it is hard to know if a company’s research is credible,” Weir says.

McGill University soil ecology professor Joann Whalen advises farmers to use diagnostic tools like plant tissue analysis tests and soil testing to determine if micronutrients are limiting yields before purchasing products.

Micronutrients

“The bottom line is that most Canadian agricultural land has adequate supplies of micronutrients such as copper, zinc, manganese, iron, boron and chlorine,” says Flaten.

That being said, some soils, especially if they’re sandy or peaty, can have significant deficiencies in some of these micronutrients.

Flaten says since those micronutrients are just as essential as the macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulfur, "the crop yield loss from these deficiencies can be substantial.”

Whalen adds that boron deficiency is occurring in some crops, causing a need for extra boron in various regions for grain crops and Brassicas.

Also, there is sometimes an iron deficiency in calcareous soils, while organic soils under vegetable production can often benefit from micronutrient fertilizers, she points out.

“Growers should follow the application guidelines, because too much of a ‘good thing’ can be damaging to the crop (and) you can get into a toxic range if not careful,” Whalen says.

Bottom line

Know your soil’s needs and seek verification of marketers’ claims before buying their enhancement products. Most Canadian agricultural land has adequate supplies of micronutrients such as copper, zinc, manganese, iron, boron and chlorine, but sandy or peaty soils can have deficiencies.

It's buyer beware for inputs claiming soil enhancement benefits. Know what your soil needs and verify product claims before buying. Tweet this

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