How do you sort out nontraditional crop products to try?

Corn Corner: There are a ton of products competing for corn input dollars. 
Dec 02, 2020
Four different salespeople have pitched me for nontraditional products for corn. Some are biologicals; others aren’t. Some claim to help corn use nitrogen better. None are super-expensive, but every dollar counts today. Should I try some? If so, which ones?
The Indiana certified crop advisers panel answering this question includes Danny Greene, owner of Greene Crop Consulting, Franklin; Jeff Nagel, agronomist with Ceres Solutions, Lafayette; and Marty Park, agronomist with Gutwein Seed Services, Rensselaer.
Greene: You’re correct, every dollar counts today. Having information on which products have the best chance to work can help you make these decisions with confidence.
Your operation is a business. Although there is always risk in farming, make business decisions, rather than letting emotion take over. Create a policy of committing to try “crazy idea” experiments, but on a limited scale. Test ideas or products that are completely out of the ordinary for your farm each year, limited to 0.4% of your acres. This is not likely enough to hurt you economically but could give insight before expanding your exposure. If you decide to move to year two, try it on 4% of your acres. If the program shows the benefit you wanted, move it up to a higher percentage. You’ll never be in the position of having to decide on large-scale purchases without testing again.
However, you must commit to performing the test and comparing it to a check. Otherwise, next year, you’ll ask yourself the same questions you did this year with no clearer idea if it might work. Consider working with your CCA to help organize your tests. Chances are that your CCA can help you test some products as part of a group. Using multiple sites is much more powerful than a single location.
Nagel: The number of vendors and products has increased substantially in the past few years. Many of these products are considered “biostimulants” and fall into one of the following categories: humic substances, amino acids, chitosans, seaweed extractants and beneficial bacteria/fungicides. Biostimulants stimulate plant processes that might provide one of the following functions:
  1. enhance/benefit nutrient uptake and/or efficiency
  2. increase tolerance to abiotic stress, such as drought or heat
  3. increase crop quality or yield
Many manufacturers have made investments in this space. While there may be merit to some products, results in a laboratory that look promising often don’t translate into consistent responses in field trials. We currently have trials out on one of the nitrogen products, but visual observations and tissue testing don’t suggest an improvement in N efficiency. Yield data will be analyzed after harvest. University research trials on one of the other N products has not shown consistent responses in 2020.
We’ve seen some benefit to some biological fungicidal products that have helped mitigate seedling blight in corn.
There will likely be research advancements that will generate products and knowledge that will add value at the farm gate. In the meantime, be a critical thinker of the claims made and try some on-farm trials to make evaluations before investing on the whole farm.
Park: Ask them for trial data, and especially third-party trial data, supporting their claims. After studying all the data and the cost-benefit relationship, try the best products on your farm, but on a small scale. Be sure to leave “untreated” checks so you can evaluate performance.