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Look Beyond Input Marketing Claims
Pennsylvania Ag Connection - 11/15/2017

Collecting unbiased data from well-designed research can have a large impact on farmers' bottom.

"Farmers spend millions of dollars on agronomy products each year. The best way to determine if a product or practice is effective prior to purchase or implementation, is to ask for the data and research backing a company's claims," explained Sara Berg, SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist.

Berg is part of a multi-state team of Extension personnel working together to clear up confusion among producers when it comes to research. Together they have published a series of articles which delve into four research topics including: replicated vs. side-by-side comparisons, how to set up on-farm research, interpreting research terms and data, and the topic of this article, interpreting and clarifying ag product marketing claims.

This is the fourth and final article, written by this team, to help producers see legitimate research from biased information produced to sell inputs. To view past articles, visit iGrow and search by Sara Berg's name.

In addition to Berg, the team includes: Lizabeth Stahl, University of Minnesota; Josh Coltrain, Kansas State University; John Thomas, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

New on-farm technology provides many farmers with real-time data access. "With large amounts of data and fast access to information and product marketing, producing a commodity requires many decisions," Berg added. "Knowing that a product has been tested and shown to make a difference should be a deciding factor when making purchases. Yet, it is not that simple in most cases."

The reason? Berg explained that although data may be included on packaging, sometimes companies leave vital information off when advertising because many view it as confusing and unnecessary.

"False research claims or partial truths are found alongside accurate claims about quality products in marketing around the world," Berg said. "Separating falsified or misleading claims from those that are not is crucial."

One method Berg said some marketers use is to display limited data in a skewed or biased manner by changing the scale of a graphic. Another method is to add disclaimers, or provide vague information and/or nothing to compare the product claims to. However, some companies and institutions provide excellent data with honest results for farmers to choose from; even in these cases, one must understand how to interpret the data.

"When a product is falsely promoted, often the customer is provided only baseline information needed to make a sale. It is vital that farmers take time to look over product information, ask questions and understand data presented to them," Berg said. "Marketing claims are not always falsified or skewed, but knowing how to spot poorly-backed claims can provide farmers peace of mind in knowing they are investing in products or adapting practices that have been properly tested."

For more information on research trials and statistics see parts 1, 2, and 3 of this 4-part article series linked at If questions should arise, contact an Extension agronomy team member for data interpretation assistance.

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