Seek out the science when making decisions

Author: Rebecca Barr | Date: 28 Jul 2015

Jim Virgona

Former CSU researcher Jim Virgona says growers can ask themselves four simple questions to assess product claims. Source: Jim Virgona

Many producers are bombarded with vendors making great claims about their products. But how can growers tell if it’s the real deal or snake-oil?

Graminus Consulting director Jim Virgona, a former academic at Charles Sturt University and based at Wagga, says growers should ensure they are looking for evidence when assessing a product or service.

“A grower cannot be expected to analyse research papers for every decision they make, but they should apply a critical eye to claims presented to them,” he said.

As an example of dubious claims, a study in 2002 on 28 commercially available liquid fertilisers on a range of crops gave a mean response in yield of zero, with variation consistent with probability theory – meaning that statistically there was no evidence to prove any of the products improved yield at all.

“Growers should apply four criteria to a claim, is it plausible, verifiable, applicable and economical?” Dr Virgona said.

Is it plausible?

Dr Virgona says nearly every choice or product in grain growing has pros and cons. Growers who are being sold something that is supposed to give a great benefit with no downside should ask questions about the claims.

Is it verifiable?

Often sensationalist claims have no good science backing them up so if growers hear a big claim, they should ask for the data behind it. Is it from a reputable organisation or funded by someone with self-interest?

“Find out if there is current knowledge based upon well designed and repeatable experiments, surveys or other scientifically acceptable approach. Growers should also be able to access the details of the work, not only be assured that it exists,” Dr Virgona said.

Is it applicable?

“Is the new technology considered in the context of the farming system? Have any flow-on effects been considered in the application of the technology?” Dr Virgona said.

Is it economical?

Growers can assess the economics of a new product by considering the verified benefits, compared to the cost to confirm if there is a positive cost benefit, and do some research to determine if it is the cheapest option.

Ask an expert

The best way to find out if something being sold is the ‘real deal’ is to look to a not-for-profit group, like the GRDC, which has access to the nation’s best agricultural research and development, or an indepdendent advisor.

These organisations and advisers have no vested interest and have the scientific knowledge to see through any ‘pseudo-science’. To access the GRDCs knowledge, growers can go online, search the GRDC website for that topic, ask the GRDC on social media, or contact a researcher directly through eXtensionAUS.

eXtensionAUS is a pilot network providing research-based resources online as well as an ‘ask an expert’ service from some of the country’s foremost agricultural scientists. The service is currently active for field crop diseases and crop nutrition.

More information

Jim Virgona
0431 137 144

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