No Silver Bullets in Crop Production

Richard Halopka, CCA
Clark County UW-Extension Crops & Soils Agent

Media has dramatized the quick solution to any ailment you may have. If you have a pain, a condition, are overweight, etc. there is a pill or remedy that has cured thousands of people. The interesting fact is that during the few moments you view an advertisement you never see any true non-biased research supporting the product. People provide a testimonial of how their lives improved since using the product. Remember, there are no silver bullets to solve any problem. Silver bullets are only useful if you fear werewolves.

Both high and low commodity prices will provide an up-swing in the promotion of silver bullet products for crop production. How can a farmer wade through information to determine if a product will provide a return on investment? Remember, if you invest in a product, it must be worth the investment.

As the farm’s manager you must ask questions. There are many agronomist and salespersons traveling the side roads selling products. First, what is the definition of an agronomist? A certified crop advisor (CCA) is an agronomist with formal education in agronomy. CCAs are required to pass an exam, then sign a code of ethics, much like a doctor or lawyer and attend classes for continuing education credits each year. Agronomy salespeople may have agronomy training or they are simply given products and sent out to sell.

An agronomist’s approach to a problem will begin by asking questions and then determining if a product may provide benefits. A salesperson may not ask questions and will promote a product that may or may not be of interest to the farmer.

Farmers must weigh recommended best management practices (BMP), versus the quick fix of applying a product to correct a problem in a field. In weight loss, the tried and true methods are the best option: reduced calorie intake and increased physical activity, despite many fad claims. The same concept can be applied in a field: while continuing BMP requires a greater period of time, BMP also provide benefits into the future.

How can a farmer distinguish the difference between BMP or a silver bullet product? First ask questions. Agronomist will be able to provide answers and point out reasons why they recommended a product or management practice on your farm. A salesperson interested in selling a product may respond with reasons why you must purchase the product. The agronomist will provide research evidence why a practice or product is recommended. A sales rep will provide testimonials from farmers who made an investment in the product with no research evidence that the product provided a return on investment.

Testimonials are comments from farmers who purchased the product. They testify the product was effective. Remember, research is done by a non-biased third party, who has no reward from the outcome of the research. Testimonials are not research. They are opinion, with no data to support the claim of how a product will improve the farmer’s finances.

So how can a farmer evaluate what is research proven compared to a testimonial product? Read the label, ask the agronomist or sales rep questions, and call your county Extension agent, and ask, “How will the product improve the problem in the field?”

Frustration, on the farmer’s part, will set in when you hear that the cost is only $5.00 per acre and the sales rep assures you the product works without providing supporting data. A check is written out, the product is applied and the farmer is not satisfied.

Remember, once the check leaves your farm the product must perform. Salespeople, promoting silver bullet products, may not be looking for repeat sales. As the farm’s manager, you MUST ask questions and understand what the product is and how it improves crop production.

Bottom line, in today’s world there are many sources to gather research evidence. If a product is worth considering it has been researched at multiple locations and printed data will be available. The summary of the research will prove if a product was effective and if it provided a return on investment. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Quick fixes are generally not long term solutions, and a product used in a field will not replace best management practices.

From research, silver bullets are only effective if you fear and want to control werewolves. If you want to be profitable in crop production, focus on best management practices, know your cost of production; focus on the basics that will provide the greatest return, short and long term, scout your fields during the growing season, and implement a practice when it is economical.

Richard Halopka contact information: