Watch out for seaweed and be wary of dead fish – they probably don't contain anything that will help you grow bountiful crops this year. Caution is in order when you hear sales claims for non-traditional or unconventional crop products. Crop producers are the target of such sales claims every year as spring planting approaches, says Soil Scientist George Rehm at the University of Minnesota extension service.

Although some non-traditional products have been shown to have a positive effect on crop production, others are questionable, says Rehm. The challenge is to separate those that are beneficial from those that have no value.

"If you're approached to buy a non-traditional product, there are some comments that should raise a 'red flag' and trigger caution," says Rehm. He advises potential buyers to be wary if they are told:

* A product will supply all micronutrients necessary for crop production; you won't get top yields unless you use the product.

* The product contains some growth promoting substance extracted from seaweed, or dead fish.

* The product will stimulate root growth-growth you can't see.

* The product will create a "balance" of nutrients in the soil.

* Using the product makes it possible to use lower fertilizer and herbicide rates.

* The product is so new that universities and county extension offices don't know about it.

"When someone asks you to spend your money on a non-traditional or non-conventional product, it's important to use common sense," says Rehm. "It's always best to ask questions. Local crop consultants, fertilizer dealers and extension offices are good sources of information. Over the years, many crop produces have lost substantial amounts of money because they didn't ask questions."