Fairly often, you'll run across advertisements or salesmen touting the benefits of using their "miracle" product. These are usually sold as soil activators and/or conditioners. Claims are widespread, but include: "a few ounces of my product will eliminate soil compaction"; "a little of my product makes fertilizer work more efficiently"; or, "a little of my product replaces the need for fertilizer."
Do any of these concoctions actually work? While it's sometimes dangerous to paint all these products with a broad brush, I'll come out and say that very few, if any, do what they claim to do. In fact, I've never seen one work as advertised.
Why do they sell? In short, it's because they promise very high returns for a relatively small cost. Usually, in return for a few dollars per acre, they claim you can realize either dramatic yield increases or improvements in soil quality. A successful "miracle" product cannot be expensive on a per acre basis or no one will try it. The secret to selling the product is to find the price where someone will try it, but the company will still make a profit.
How can you recognize these products? There are several ways. First, they rarely have scientific data. Their advertisements usually consist solely of unsubstantiated claims and testimonials from satisfied customers. I like to hear good things from satisfied customers, but I also like to see unbiased scientific data. Unless I know the "satisfied customer" touting the product and trust him, I tend to take testimonials with a grain of salt (maybe even with a box of salt).
Another way to recognize one of these products is to ask if a state land grant college (for example, Oklahoma State or Texas A&M) has done research on the product. Usually, the company's response will be, "This is so new that they haven't tested it yet," or, "They're not progressive in their thinking at that university." I'd be very concerned if the only product testing was conducted by the manufacturer, or if the research had been conducted by an agency connected with the company making the product.
Some of the claims made on behalf of these "miracle" products border on the ridiculous. "Six ounces of our product per acre will eliminate soil compaction." Think about that one for a second. An acre of soil six inches deep weighs about two million pounds. Is it logical to think that a few ounces of anything can relieve soil compaction in that amount of soil?
Another claim is a few ounces of a product can replace the need for fertilizer. To grow a ton of bermudagrass (dry matter) requires about 50-60 pounds nitrogen, 10-15 pounds phosphate and 50-60 pounds potash. Logically, how can a few ounces of anything replace the need for 110-135 pounds of these nutrients? You may be able to grow this amount of forage with no fertilizer if your soil is already high in these nutrients, but a good soil test can tell you that at a much lower cost than you will pay for a "miracle" product.
Some of the products claim to "activate" nutrients already in the soil. The main reason nutrients are "deactivated" in the soil is an improper soil pH. Use soil test results to see if you need to add lime to make nutrients more available to plants. If you do need lime, you will need much more than a few ounces per acre.
Finally, if you decide to use a product like these described above, try a simple test. Leave check strips where you do not apply the product through the field and mark them. Then, during the season, invite the salesman for the product to come and pick out which strips have his product and which ones do not.
The best way to recognize these "miracle" products is to listen closely to their claims. Remember the old saying, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."