When he was approached to put in some on-farm tests with a new soil amendment product, Ben Knox was skeptical to say the least.

He’s seen plenty of snake oil and snake oil sales personnel come and go, and a product made primarily from sand didn’t seem to be what his farmers would need to boost crop yield and quality.

Knox  has helped farmers as an agronomist for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) for the past 27 years — when he talks about crop production, growers in his area tend to listen.

“I’ve been involved with agriculture all my life, and I don’t recall many products that I’ve seen that work so well over so many different soil types and on so many crops as did Quick-Sol this past crop year. I know it’s just one year, but the results are surprising,” Knox says.

Price of the product varies from crop to crop, depending on use rate. On corn, the product costs $18 per acre. “When adding the extra yield on corn from test plots and comparing it to the cost of the product and the cost of applying it, we saw net yield advantages of $150 per acre using Quick-Sol, Knox says. 

Perhaps the biggest eye opener for Knox was a test conducted by former colleague and recently retired NCDA Agronomist Lynn Howard with Hiddenite, N.C. farmer Lawrence Branton.

Branton is a long-time tobacco grower and by all accounts a very good one and a very conservative one. When a 12 acre field sprayed with Quick-Sol came in at more than 4,900 pounds per acre, Knox had to see it for himself.

“Mr. Branton’s entire tobacco crop was good. I think he averaged well over 3,000 pounds per acre on his entire farm, but this one test block was amazing,” Knox recalls. 

Lynn Howard who conducted and oversaw the trials on Branton’s farm said, “Right after topping during the second application of Quick-Sol this 12 acre field had the potential to yield over 4,000 pounds per acre, after the third and final application of Quick-Sol the tips on this field were the largest I had ever seen and were more mature than any of the tobacco on Branton’s entire tobacco crop”.

“Overall, Howard says, all the trials I have worked on with Quick-Sol if applied properly and on time the product did everything the product says it will do.”

The product, Steve Speros, vice-president of marketing for Quick-Sol USA says, came about in a typically serendipitous way. “It was developed in a little town near San Antonio, Texas to remediate oil wells. An unforeseen effect was the greening of grass and mesquite around the well. As a result of this unexpected outcome, a new product for agricultural use was developed.

Introduced in five states

Quick-Sol is a soil amendment and the main active component is silicon. It is available in 17 countries world-wide. It was first introduced in Latin American and Europe, where silicon is more widely used in agriculture.  Quick-Sol’s initial use in the USA was in Texas. Presently, it is being introduced in five states, including North Carolina. 

The trick is to process silicon into a form that plants can use. Silica, commonly known as sand, is the second most common element is the world. Silicon (Si) is found in silica (SiO2), but in this form silicon is not bio-available. 

Quick-Sol provides a bio-available form of silicon. Presently, Silicon is not listed as an essential element for plants, but there’s extensive evidence that silicon helps plants with biotic and abiotic stresses, which leads to healthier plants and improved yields.

From a soil amendment perspective, Speros says the product creates air spaces in the soil and reduces overall compaction of the soil. In tests from the mountains of western North Carolina to the heavy black soils in the eastern part of the state, soil temperatures were from 1-4 degrees cooler when Quick-Sol was applied, he adds.

Two concerns to the product that all the NCDA agronomists involved in the statewide field trials have found is that it is heavy, weighing in at 11 pounds per gallon and it can’t be mixed with anything.

To get the proper response Quick-Sol must be diluted with clean, potable water and applied separately. 

In farmer tests, the product has been used on cotton, corn, soybeans, peanuts and wheat. The results so far have been encouraging.

In one test on irrigated corn in the eastern part of the state, Speros says the grower recorded a 26 bushel per acre increase that yielded more than 200 bushels per acre.

Three field trials with Lumberton, N.C., grower Kevin Roberts, with Quick-Sol resulted in yield increases on peanuts of 800 pounds per acre, cotton 150 pounds per acre and soybeans 9.5 bushels per acre.

In Stanly County, N.C., cotton grower Andrew Burleson applied the product in 36 rows with Quick-Sol and 36 without the product, replicated three times.  At harvest time, the closer he got to the treated rows, his yields went up.

Overall, the North Carolina grower recorded a 94 pound per acre increase on the treated rows

On a different farm, using Quick-Sol on cotton in side by side 32 acre field trials, the grower averaged a 129 pound per acre response on 3.5 bales per acre cotton.  On the three cotton trials in Stanly County, the average yield increase was about 100 pounds per acre, according to Speros.

Though the results have far exceeded his expectations, Speros says the term ‘snake oil’ has taken on a whole new meaning to him.

“I had so many doors closed on me that at one point I was ready to pack up and move back to Texas,” he laughs.

After hearing some of the stories farmers have told me about all these products they’ve tried over the years that were going to revolutionize farming, only to see them fail, I can understand why they would be apprehensive about using our product, Speros says. 

rroberson@farmpress.com