Renewable Farming

Biologically healthy soil, keen management help you hang onto profit margins

2020 is the fourth growing season for AgriEnergy Resources field tests of a new biologically active foliar product labeled LF-1. It’s an example of how farmers can reduce costs for  NPK and chemicals. The goal: Manage the power of soil biology instead of paying more to chemical, seed and fertilizer corporations.

March 19, 2020 — You’d call this news “premature.” But we’ve been so intrigued by AgriEnergy Resources’ field trials of a new foliar product that we want to relay a progress report which the company has been sharing at dealer and farmer meetings. The test product, tagged LF-1, initially showed double-digit yield gains on corn in AgriEnergy’s first field experiments in 2017. The treatment was a single foliar application. The AgriEnergy team, managed by Dean Craine, was cautious as usual. Wider strip trials in 2018 also showed a clear-cut crop response and higher yields as the product was tested on other crops besides corn. 

In the first couple of years, the staff referred to the test product as “Staygreen” because corn remained green while untreated fields died down prematurely in late August through September. Some companies may have rolled out the product to market after two successful trial years. Not AgriEnergy. In 2018, AgriEnergy merged with a larger entity, Douglas Products, to expand its research capability. Dean told us that during early trials, WakeUP Summer was used as a surfactant/penetrant/mobilizer. 

In the 2019 season, “We encountered more variable yield responses with LF-1,” Agrienergy agronomist Ken Musselman told us this week. The trials were geographically diverse, and the product was foliar-applied to several types of crops. The photos below are examples of response — such as a 20% jump in cucumber yields after one application. 

The 2019 season imposed such unpredicted stress that we’d expect lots of field variation. We’ve dealt with that for a decade in random-rep field trials on our own experimental strips. But AgriEnergy/Douglas remains conservative, not making marketing claims. Ken Musselman says, “We haven’t laid out any marketing plans” until the product has been fully field-trialed and refined. 

One rationale for sharing this update, even though this biostimulant isn’t on the market: It’s an example of how you can shift NPK/chemical dollars into building biological response in your crops. Vigorous soil biology builds productivity over time, so you can gradually trim back chemical and conventional NPK costs. Dozens of AgriEnergy Resources farmer clients have demonstrated this. Many have shifted to organic production, or are transitioning that way. Essentially, you apply more of your own managerial ability, instead of paying for the Bayer and Syngenta version of management. 

The small but growing firms developing beneficial microbial and biostimulant products have often built their experience in the lab and field for more than 30 years. That knowledge had to accumulate at nature’s pace, a season at a time. Multinationals can’t quickly duplicate this knowledge base by throwing dollars into their labs.

The goal is clearly “Renewable Farming,” a sharp contrast to the toxic route. Chemical weedkillers lead down a dead-end road to weed resistance and buildup of soil toxicity. Fifty years of salt-heavy NPK has worn down soil micronutrients, and thus much of our food is deficient in the micros which are foundations of health.

A second rationale for showing you the following photos: Crop response to LF-1 is enhanced by an excellent surfactant. AgriEnergy/Douglas will be evaluating several surfactant combinations with LF-1 during the 2020 season, Ken Musselman tells us.

And here’s a third reason: It’s encouraging to see experienced companies like AgriEnergy continue to innovate with technologies which help you hang onto profit margins challenged by the cost-price squeeze.