How to make your own inexpensive foliar biostimulant for corn and beans

One of our most enthusiastic WakeUP clients phoned a few days ago to ask about any new yield-enhancing ideas. He's a leading innovator — always searching for an edge. He has excellent soil health in a highly productive Iowa county. Two of his comments offered exceptional insight from his 30+ years of experience:

"I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying various fertilizers, live biologicals, micronutrients and biostimulants. Only a few have consistently yielded a positive payback."

July 2, 2017 By Jerry Carlson — Naturally, I asked him what yield boosters had given him the best return per dollar spent. Hoping, of course, that he would start with "WakeUP." But he didn't. WakeUP in every sprayer load was something he always does — hasn't made yield comparisons with and without WakeUP for years. "It just works," he said, and makes everything else in the sprayer work better.

Corn just sprayed with nutrients mobilized by WakeUP Summer

Another yield enhancer our grower friend trusts — at least on soybeans, where he has experience — is a home-made brew he learned about years ago from Dr. Arden Andersen, one of our mentors through the past three decades. Dr. Andersen still consults with growers worldwide on occasion, although he's dedicated full-time to a nutrition-based medical practice in Olathe, Kansas. (Yes, he heals people with nutrition and the appropriate physical therapies... food IS your best medicine.) Our Iowa farmer client says this mix has outperformed most other foliar products on his soybeans. (Hasn't tried it on corn just yet; others have.) He says Soybeans add blooms, nodes, bean size and test weight. "We didn't pass the 70-bu. per acre yield mark on beans until we tried this combination," he says. In 2016, a soybean variety that typically gives him 55 to 60 bu. yielded 84 bu. after four spray trips with the "brew" noted below. Another variety that's usually in the same range made 76 bushels. A third variety lagged at 65 bushels. "On our place, we have a hard time pushing past the 55 to 60 bu. level on beans. This just isn't the ground for beans."

The mix which Arden Andersen recommended to farmers several years ago contains simple ingredients but deals with principles of biological energies. I recall attending some of his seminars, and making notes on the mix, but haven't pursued it. So I asked Arden for an update. Here's what he just told me in an e-mail:

"The mix can vary, but the Australians did foliar research a few years ago with 2 quarts per acre of Coke in 5-10 gallons of water. In that mix you can add a pint to 2 quarts of household ammonia and 1 pint to 1 quart of apple cider vinegar plus 1/4 to 1 pound of sugar. Regards, Arden."

1. Coca-Cola: Probably the easiest way to get concentrated Coca-Cola syrup is at Sam's Club, where members pay about $82 for 5 gallons and pick it up at a Sam's Club outlet. Five  gallons of concentrate makes 25 gallons of standard fountain Coca-Cola, so the cost of Coca-Cola would be $1.64 per acre at the two quart rate. If you're just running a test, or spraying your garden, ready-to-drink Coca-Cola will do. 

2. Household ammonia: (aqueous ammonia or NH3, at least 20% ammonia in water) is a little more difficult to find in large quantities, but a commercial chemical supplier can locate some in drums or totes. Some wholesale firms sell 64-ounce retail containers with total price of about $65 per gallon, which looks pretty pricey. Buy 10 tons on Alibaba and it's $400 per ton, or roughly $2 per gallon. 

Dollar Tree shows ammonia for the brand, "LA's Totally Awesome Pure Ammonia" $6 per case, with two gallons per case.  There's no specification on the strength. 

Logically, using 28% or 32% nitrogen solution would probably be effective, since it's a combination of anhydrous ammonia and water. If you can put up with the risk and hassle, you could bubble some anhydrous through a tank of water and make your own aqua ammonia cheap. The use of foliar-applied ammoniacal nitrogen as the crop nears and enters its reproductive stage could have growth impacts beyond simply providing a little more nitrogen. Dr. Carey Reams, originator of the "Biological Theory of Ionization," recommended spraying a bit of ammonia on garden crops as they transitioned into the reproductive stage. It would trigger flowering in tomatoes, for example. Dr. Dan Skow, founder of International Ag Labs in Fairmont, MN, continued the teaching of Dr. Reams. He typically recommended Bo Peep brand household ammonia, but that brand vanished after the 1990s. 

3. Apple cider vinegar:  Commonly abbreviated as ACV, it's widely available. Do an online search for the best high-quality deal and cheapest freight. It's made by fermentation, and not the same as diluted acetic acid or white vinegar. One supplier, for example is "Grass Farmer Supply" which offers conventional apple cider vinegar in 5-gal. jugs ($9.50 per gallon), 55-gal. drums ($5.50 per gallon) and totes ($4.50 per gallon). ACV contains natural growth factors or phytonutrients, beneficial microbial organisms and their metabolic products. It's widely used in livestock feed and specialty fertility products. I used to add it to the rations of our 4-H Hereford steers for a more glossy coat and improved meat texture.

So the standard recipe as specified by Dr. Andersen would cost something like this on a per-acre basis:

$1.64 for 2 quarts of diluted Coca-Cola made from syrup concentrate.

$3.00 for 2 quarts of household ammonia.

$2.50 for 1 quart of apple cider vinegar.

$7.14 total for the "payload" ingredients, not including a carbon source like dextrose, molasses or another type of sugar. Another $1 worth of sugar would probably be worth the effort and cost, especially if you go with feed grade molasses purchased in totes or drums.

In our central Iowa farmer's case, his blend closely followed the "classic" three ingredients, and also included 2 lbs. per acre of monopotassium phosphate, a dry product which he purchased from consultant Jerry Sheppele in Garnavillo, IA (563-964-2162). Jerry tells us this food grade phosphate sells for approximately $1.20 per pound depending on quantities. 

So you're just over $7 per acre of ingredients, plus a couple dollars more if you add the mono potassium phosphate to beef up the phosphate in the Coke syrup.

We're going to assume you have your own high-clearance sprayer and you're willing to spend some diesel fuel and time making three to five passes over the field, starting as early as V4 and continuing on into late summer. So your cash cost could be $1 to $3 per acre for application depending on how you want to charge depreciation, fuel and your time. The other benefit from this is that you get a close look at the crop through the season when you're riding in air-conditioned comfort, and you're not breathing anything toxic like a fungicide. You can also add other nutrients in the spray, such as micros needed as indicated by tissue tests or sap tests.

Of course, we would highly recommend enhancing this bio-blend with a performance booster, WakeUP Summer. We always expect WakeUP Summer to improve yield response to a foliar nutrient or biostimulant by 50% to 80%. Example: If a biostimulant blend gives you an extra 5 bu. of corn with each pass, adding WakeUP Summer has a high-odds probability of adding another 4 bu. of yield for just $3.50 per acre. A $12 probable corn yield increase for $3.50 risk. Your cost for 5 ounces per acre of WakeUP Summer would be pretty close to $3.50 depending on freight. 

For most growers, there's a psychological obstacle to the extra sprayer trips for applying late-season foliar nutrients. Only one out of five Midwest farmers does much foliar feeding.

However, most of our customers, and those biologically-inclined clients of AgriEnergy Resources, are eager to use frequent sprays with foliar nutrition and biostimulants. The standard mantra of most big biotech farmers has been to shed the sprayer when the final postmerge herbicide application is done. Some will apply late fungicide treatments in attempts to stave off early die-down in corn and fungal diseases in soybeans.

But we're seeing the beginnings of a trend change:  Using foliar nutrition and biostimulants to ramp up the natural immunity of corn and soybeans, and keep them growing right up until their inherent maturity kicks in. We like to work with trend-setters. We like to work with the survivors.

Erik Carlson (whose family firm, Generation Ag, manufactures WakeUP) found a recommendation dating to 1981 from Dr. Skow and Dr. Reams. It was in a transcript of a seminar led by those two now-departed patriarchs of eco-farming. They encouraged a formula with the same types of ingredients as those shown in the recipe above, except that they specified liquid phosphate instead of Coca-Cola, which contains phosphoric acid. Their recommended rate of apple cider vinegar was about the same as in the prescription outlined by Dr. Andersen. (Some of Dr. Andersen's earliest training came directly from Dr. Carey Reams.)  Drs. Skow and Reams noted that ammonium sulfate or 28% liquid nitrogen could be used in place of ammonia. 

Reams and Skow used this combination of phosphate, ammoniacal nitrogen and vinegar, an acid, to trigger the crop's internal metabolism from an anionic state (negatively charged, vegetative growth) to cationic (positively charged, reproductive growth).