As farmers prepare for spring work, they're likely to be on the receiving end of sales pitches for non-traditional crop products.

Alan Bertelsen, an agronomy technical specialist with Cenex/ Land O' Lakes, has seen a dramatic increase the past couple of years in the number of questionable products pitched to growers.

"Telephone sales are becoming more common for crop protection products," says the Minnesota-based agronomist.

He's just one of several specialists who warn farmers to avoid buying crop protection chemicals or soil additives backed by fantastic claims instead of solid science.

"There are various claims for these products," adds George Rehm, University of Minnesota extension soils specialist. "Some are supposed to affect water movement in soils; others are supposed to stimulate the microbial life in soils. This stimulation, according to the sales claims, nearly eliminates the need for fertilizer for crop production."

Most of these products have little or no value and, if used, can result in reduced yields and substantially lower farm profits, warns Rehm.

Some soil additives, for example, are promoted as having an organic base that will increase soil biological activity, says David Franzen, North Dakota State University extension soils specialist. He points out that simple math demonstrates that such claims are more fantasy than fact.

"Most soils in North Dakota have 3% to 5% organic matter in the top 6", which equals between 30 and 50 tons of organic material per acre," says Franzen."It is therefore hard to imagine, and even harder to demonstrate, that th e addition of a few quarts or even a few gallons of an organic additive, weighing 3 to 16 lbs, can increase soil biological activity in any significant way, if at all," he adds.

Other additives may be billed as able to unlock trapped nutrients in the soil or add micronutrients that will make all the difference in creating a flourishing crop. The truth is, says Franzen, crops will not be helped by additives or fertilizers unless the nutrients they contain are actually absent from the soil. The only way to find out is by soil testing.

Agronomist Bertelsen recommends that farmers ask for a copy of the label or material safety data sheet before buying any product. He also warns them to be especially wary of any claims that aren't substantiated by university research.

If growers are unsure of a particular product, Bertelsen recommends they ask a local agronomist or extension specialist for recommendations.

Other possible sources of assistance include state departments of agriculture and the Better Business Bureau.