Concerns and questions have surfaced recently with producers and consultants in regard to “Plant Health” or “Yield Enhancement” products that are being marketed and sold to producers at the farm level with promises of higher yield potential and increased quality. These products may contain small percentages or amounts of a specific nutrient or a combination of nutrients, and/or other “Yield Enhancement” formulas that may help boost cotton yields. These products may come in several different packages from seed treatments, hopper box treatments, in-furrow sprays or foliar applications. There are numerous names and formulations – some have been around awhile and some appear to be brand new or at least have new trade names. There is no doubt that if a producer has booked the majority of his cotton crop for over $1.00/lb lint then any boost in yield may be profitable depending on the cost of the product. A 50lb/A lint increase is much more appealing when cotton is $1.30/lb vs. $0.52/lb. Many of these products being sold are claiming at least a 50 lb/A increase in yield. As a producer or a consultant, you should consider several factors concerning yield increase data provided by a company when you are approached by one of their sales reps.
1. Who conducted the trials? Many times, if asked, you will find that the trials were conducted either internally or through a private research firm. Remember that universities such as the University of Arkansas are the only source of non-biased third-party data available.
2. Were the trials replicated in a single location? Do not put much weight on data from trials that are conducted as single strips vs. replications. Single strip trial data is only as good as flipping a coin. When you think about it, you have a 50% chance of winning each time.
3. Are the yield differences statistically different? Researchers often talk about 50lb/A lint yield increases that are not statistically significant. A common comment to the prior statement is, “50lbs is a lot of difference on my farm, especially when cotton price is $1.30/lb.” As true as this statement may be, whether or not the product in question provides a SIGNIFICANT yield difference or just a numeric yield difference will tell you something about the trial. Even though 50lb/A lint seems high, it may not be significant in the trial if there was high variability between the replications in the trial. Again a good reason to ask if the trial was replicated.
4. Were the yield responses repeated? It is important to ask if the yield increases supported by the data were repeated at multiple locations and multiple years. The University of Arkansas does not make recommendations on one-year data. Generally, three years of data are needed across multiple locations to determine effectiveness of a product.
There are many products that are being sold with “yield enhancement” claims that will more than likely not provide any benefit at all. It is important to stick to the basics and not fall victim to the claims and sales pitches for products that may not be around for more than one year. The cost of these products will range from $4.00 to $12.00/Acre, if not more. Focus on the basics and spend the money where the return on the investment will be the greatest. In a fertility program, this starts with lime, phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen. It is just as important to always apply proven, reputable products to provide the necessary nutrients to the crop. Invest in nematode management or soil testing to determine whether or not nematodes are a problem, and/or residual herbicides to increase management of glyphosate-resistant weeds. The point is to not let the price of cotton cloud your judgment. Management practices that have made you the best cotton on your farm will continue to provide the highest yields this season. Most notably, timeliness of applications whether it be nutrients, herbicides, insecticides or irrigation will be the main factor in producing a high yield in 2011.