For Better Yields, Just Add Sugar?

February 26, 2016 10:02 AM

For years, a particular rumor has persisted – tankmix a sugar solution, spray it on your corn or soybeans, and sweeten up your yields. But does it actually work? Several university trials in recent years have put sugar applications to the test.

Trials in 2012 by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln had 3 lb. of sugar added per 10 gal. of water at the R2 stage of soybeans. Although there were no significant yield differences, the sugar-applied plots had half the lodging of the untreated check.

Separate studies from USDA-ARS showed sugar-sprayed plots had higher lady beetle populations that unsprayed plots.

“This research makes the case that sugar-feeding is very important for lady beetle populations in cropland and suggests a possible way to help maintain beneficial species in agroecosystems,” according to Sharon Durham, USDA-ARD information staff writer.

UNL scientists conclude from the available research that while applying sugar to corn or soybeans doesn’t always show improved yields, there has been noticeable difference in stalk strength, particularly in corn. They encourage their state’s farmers to conduct on-farm research trials if they are curious to learn more.

Researchers at The Ohio State University, including Harold Watters, Laura Lindsey and Aaron Brooker, remain more skeptical that applying any sugar solution to crops will pay off.

“We are reluctant to recommend practices that cost time and money and are not likely to be of assistance,” they write. “From several on-farm trials conducted by OSU Extension professionals over the years, we see no value in applying sugar to our Ohio row crops.”

In two trials conducted in 2013, Ohio State researchers found no yield differences by adding sugar to either corn or soybean plots. They cite separate research trials from the University of Wisconsin, with soybean specialist Shawn Conley noting, “Other management strategies to improve soybean yield should take precedence over applying sugar.”

The Ohio State researchers say correcting low soil phosphorus is a smarter place to chase higher soybean yields. In hundreds of tests between 2013 and 2015, they found that fields with low soil phosphorus yielded 7 bu. per acre less. Also, fields with low soil potassium yielded 4 bu. per acre less.

“Before considering untested or unproven inputs, consider inputs that are most likely to improve your bottom line,” they note.

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