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  • Writer's picturePhilip

Ducks and Snakes

The Duck and goose shooting season (inland) runs from 1st September to 31st January and although I did see some ducks on a farm track the other day I have also encountered other Quackery this spring.


Quackery refers to unproven or fraudulent medical practices, often through the sale or application of “quack medicines”. The word “quack” being derive from the archaic Dutch word “quacksalver,” meaning “boaster who applies a salve.” 

Quack medicines have been especially prevalent for centuries throughout the British Empire!  The American term for quack medicine was “snake oil”, a reference to sales pitches in which the sometimes outrageous claims of medicinal successes were attributed to the exotic ingredients of their product.  Such opportunists often used enthusiastic and deceptive sales techniques, including “fire and brimstone” sermons, theatrical productions and confidence tricks.


Some quacks were enormously successful. German immigrant William Radam started selling “Microbe Killer” throughout the United States in the 1880s. His project claimed to “Cure All Diseases.”  In fact, Radam’s medicine was therapeutically useless, a mixture of dilute sulfuric acid coloured with red wine. In defence of Quack medicines, some did have ingredients with proven medicinal effects; for example mercury, silver and arsenic may have helped some infections, willow bark contained salicylic acid (a substance very similar to aspirin) and quinine from bark was an effective treatment for malaria.


Urease inhibition, Ammonia volatilisation, soil phosphorous lock up; all can be successfully controlled / prevented by the application of a specific branded product, so the manufacturer claims.  Also, as a side benefit you gain a 10-15% yield increase in crop production when and where ever they are used – worldwide.

With the cost of Nitrogen fertiliser set to reduce profits in the 22/23 harvest year some have already “trialled” the above material.


The data on this (and many other products) is already in the public domain, it was as far back as 1968 (or maybe that should be 1880.)

That data has repeatedly shown that in maize, winter wheat, sugar beet, grassland and soybean the amount of product recommended for commercial field use is too small to have any significant effect so that the chances of "getting your money back" are slim.


Also, experience on farm at Rothamsted Research Station taught me basic principles, one of which is that in trials it is difficult to tell the potential effects of a given product on plant yield when the result are similar to or less than the normal background variability, which occurs in all biological experimentation and is typically about 5-10% (expressed as the coefficient of variation CV) in well designed, planned and executed trials.


Meta-analysis of the published and unpublished results (up until 2014) a total of 331 trials came to the same conclusion, that the manufactured product has little practical effect on crop production.  The range in the observed response simply reflects the background variability, which is expressed in all field trials of this nature. 


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