One of the most important skills you need as a farmer is the ability to separate fact from fiction. At least that’s how Purdue University Extension agronomist, Bob Nielson sees it. Companies pitch a variety of products to farmers every year. Selling everything from fertilizers claiming to enhance yields to pest control solutions claiming to protect yields.

While some product claims prove to be true, others end up being a complete waste of money. For this reason, Neilson compiled a list of tips he presented on YouTube to help farmers decipher marketing claims.

His video, aptly titled “Filter the Kool-Aid Before You Drink It” is all about thinking critically. If you master this skill, you’ll improve the profitability and sustainability of your farming operation” Nielson says.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Nielson’s presentation.

What’s In It for Me? No, Really.

The first thing Neilson wants you to do is ask yourself a very simple question. What’s in it for me? This might seem obvious, but Neilson isn’t talking about what the salesperson is claiming is in it for you. Sales pitches are designed to get you to buy whether there is value or not. So, you must be a critical thinker and a natural skeptic to determine real value.

At the end of the day, farmers need crop inputs to cultivate the crops needed to make money. Companies sell crop inputs to farmers to create more revenue for their companies. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, but you don’t need every input that a company wants to sell you.

Don’t Automatically Trust Farmer Testimonials

Some solutions give the appearance of being well-documented, but results mostly rely on testimonials. This is problematic because you can’t rule out other factors for being responsible for yield improvements.

A farmer could claim their yields improved when they applied a particular product, but we can’t know that for certain. This is because you don’t know what other factors could have contributed to the improvement in their yields. For example, perhaps their yields improved due to good weather rather than the product. Testimonials don’t allow you to rule out third or contributing factors.

Even ‘Logical’ Sells Can Lack Logic

Some sells just seem logical. They have all the metrics to support their claims. The “the results speak for themselves” type of sales tactic that is hard to turn down. The only problem with the ‘logical’ sell is, sometimes they’re presenting bad logic. Or misleading logic. Or circumstantial logic. Or just flat-out lying logic. That is, the results of a product or service aren’t actually the results of the product or service. Instead, it’s perfectly crafted data made to look like results are guaranteed.

Neilson gives some pretty great examples of the many ways data can be fabricated or misinterpreted in his presentation. Research must be sound to support a claim, and often it is not. Make sure you examine the data beyond what the salesperson presents to validate the reliability of the claim.

Sometimes Yield Claims are Irrelevant

There are times when a claim will be true. The product or service does in fact do what the seller says it does, this just might not matter. For example, Neilson discusses one company that made the claim 97.6% of it’s hybrids stood until harvested compared to 96% of a competitor’s hybrids. The claim is true, but is this a significant truth? No, says Neilson.

Know What to Look for When Examining Yield Data

There are a lot of ways the results of research are presented to the public. This includes graphs, summaries, statistics, and a study’s replicability. You, need to know how to properly scrutinize any research data presented to you to support a claim. Neilson discusses a few of the ways information can be skewed or misrepresented to assert false or misleading yield claims. Fake or misleading graphs, inaccurate statistics, and omitted third factors are all ways in which data can be manipulated. Neilson provides specific things to look for during his presentation for each factor.

Two Questions for Clarity

For now, I’ll leave you with two simple questions that will help cut through most of the fat, so to speak. When a salesperson is making a claim that is bolstered by an experiment or multiple studies, ask them about randomization and replication. The only way a cause-and-effect claim can be made is through an experiment. An experiment requires randomization – participants were chosen at random. More specifically, each member of the chosen population had an equal chance of being selected. If randomization was not used, the salesperson cannot make a legitimate causal claim.

When referring to replication, you’re asking if the study being referred to has been or can be replicated. If a study has been replicated with similar results, it increases the accuracy of the claim.

There are many more important takeaways from Bob Nielson’s presentation, that were not covered in this article. Make sure you visit his YouTube channel and watch his video yourself! You won’t be disappointed; he provides exceptional knowledge and real-life examples to help improve your analytic skills.  

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