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Sort out the wheat from the chaff when considering biological products

Sort out the wheat from the chaff when considering biological products
Knowing which products could help you and which likely won’t help isn’t easy.

There appear to be more biological products on the market today than ever before. Some come from companies you know; others are from startup companies. The prices are typically reasonable, and the companies usually claim they have the one product that can make you money. How do you know which product to try, if you try any?

You might turn to trusted agronomists for advice. That’s a good first step.

LOOK FOR PROOF: This biological product does what it is supposed to do on a petri dish. Will it deliver results in your field? How to find out is your biggest challenge.

“We have the same issue as Certified Crop Advisers — sorting out ones with promise from the rest,” begins Betsy Bower, an agronomist and Indiana CCA with Ceres Solutions. With some of these products, there may be some university trial data available. “You can potentially do a Google search to see what you can find out,” Bower says.

Where to start
Another option is to see if you can find a label for the product, Bower says. Some companies have labeled their biological products. She’s talking about a label like you would see on a crop protection product.

“Typically, the labeling process does support the need for research data on the product,” she says. “If there is no label, there may not be a lot of data behind the product.”

The biological market is highly unregulated currently, Bower observes. “There certainly is the ability for anyone to develop a biological product and sell it,” she says. “I think most companies truly believe the product will work, and the company has measured it working.”

That’s not the whole story, however, Bower continues. “Will it work under your conditions, like soil pH, cation exchange capacity levels, soil nutrient levels, in Midwestern soils and in your cropping system?” she asks.

Next steps
“Ask questions about where the research on the product was done,” Bower recommends. Was it tested in your part of the country?

“If the product was tested in western Nebraska, it will likely not react similarly to most areas in Indiana,” Bower says. Both soil types and climates can be extremely different from one area to another.

So where does all this leave you? Your budget is tight. Ironically, some products tend to be pushed harder in tight financial times. While you need to cut costs, it’s hard to resist trying something that doesn’t cost much per acre, but comes with claims that it could add more bushels and dollars to your bottom line.

“If the product is fairly reasonable in cost, try some on your own farm,” Bower suggests. “There is nothing better than having experience with a new-to-you product than trying it on your own farm.”

Darrell Shemwell, a CCA and manager of the Poseyville branch of the Posey County Co-op, believes in testing under your conditions. He has actually done it. And he believes in giving a product more than one chance.

“This year we tried a new product [for] soybeans that was supposed to increase chlorophyll and photosynthesis,” he says.  “We ran yield checks. The treated plot yielded 0.6 bushel per acre less than the untreated plot. That is research, and we will probably try it again next year. Conditions may be different, and we may see a positive response.”

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