Will Wetting Agents Move From Turf to Crops?
High value crops often lead the way in the adoption of new technologies, such as slow release fertilizer. Turf certainly is one of the highest value crops grown, especially turf on a golf green. Over the past 30 years, wetting agents have proven their value in the turf market. They may soon start proving themselves in commodity agriculture as well. Custom formulator Exacto, Inc. is working with irrigation equipment supplier, Valmont Industries, to evaluate the impact of wetting agents on irrigation effectiveness.
Keith Fyhr Keith Fyhr, marketing manager, Exacto, expects such research efforts to attract interest, especially after this year's widespread drought. Although Exacto offers a broad line of wetting agents in the turf market, the custom formulator has no branded products in field crop agriculture nor plans to introduce current products under its brand. However, Fyhr is confident there are a number of benefits to "treating" soils that have been overlooked by producers and distributors of wetting agent technology.
"It's a challenging story to demonstrate clearly, but anything we can do to increase irrigation efficiencies is worth another look," he said.
OVERCOMING A CHALLENGING STORY
Of course, wetting agents and soil conditioners are not new to commodity agriculture and have found a home in some high value crops. Periodic introduction to row crops has not proven economical going back to the mid 1950s when the potential wetting agent polyacrylamide polymer was first discovered.
The challenge in telling the story comes in part from similar stories being told in the past and being disproven or at least not being told convincingly. The late Herb Sunderman, soil research scientist, Colby Branch Agricultural Experiment Station, Kansas State University, captured the essence of the wetting agent controversy in a 1983 North Central Regional Extension Publication, though the concern at the time wasn't drought.
click image to zoom "The necessity to conserve fuel and reduce production costs has renewed interest in alternatives to tillage for increasing water infiltration rate," he wrote. "Soil wetting agents are being examined for their usefulness as such an alternative. Still others categorically condemn them as useless. Their true worth, as this paper explains, lies between those extremes."
"Wetting agents have proven invaluable in turf and especially golf courses, and the technology has continued to improve," said Doug Soldat, assistant professor, Department of Soil Science, University of Wisconisn. "Golf greens tend to have sand-based soils with a lot of organic matter produced by grasses. The sand gets coated with an organic material, which becomes hydrophobic when the soil dries. At that point, applied water runs off, and the soil continues to get drier."