«Previous    Next»
Absorbent Crop Crystals Trap Water, Boosts Yields
Dryland farmers in western states have something to cheer about thanks to new water-absorbent "crop crystals" that trap water when it rains and release the moisture gradually as the soil dries out.
George Tucker of Colorado Springs, Colo., is U.S. distributor of the new Orton Crystals that are manufactured in England. The crystals are about the size of sesame seeds and will swell up to the size of an acorn after an hour or so of exposure to water. Once filled with water the crystals are dry and about the consistency of Jello.
The crystals are a petroleum by-product made from natural gas, ammonia, and propylene. They're side-dressed 1 to 2 in. deep onto growing crops. When it rains, the crystals absorb water and nutrients which are later released as the soil dries off. Under irrigation, Tucker says the crystals let you make more efficient use of water by keeping it from leaching away. When used in areas that receive plenty of rainfall, Tucker says the crystals help prevent erosion and prevent in-season stress between rainfalls, and they also provide protection against occasional drought.
"They've been tested for 6 years in England. Last year we worked with 26 farmers in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa. Most couldn't believe the results. Crops matured faster, yielded higher, and the fields didn't get compacted. Most of the farmers who've reordered for next year want to apply crystals to all their acreage. We've already got more than 10,000 acres lined up," says Tucker.
The crystals have been tested by the EPA, which neither endorsed nor restricted use of the crystals. The Occupational Health and Safety Organization has declared them to be non-hazardous.
"We've seen yield increases of 16 to 20 bu. per acre in corn and 6 to 8 bu. per acre increases in soybeans," says Tucker.
Aaron Zemler, who farms near Colorado Springs, planted 55 acres of corn with the crystals and another 55 acres without. Both fields were irrigated. The fields received the same amount of water and fertilizers. Although Zemler was skeptical when he started the test, by harvest time, all his doubts had disappeared. "We got 3,000 more pounds of corn silage where we used the crystals. When you get a rain on this sandy soil, the water goes out of sight in an hour or two. The crystals hold it near the plant roots where it belongs."
Zemler notes that the crystals also improve soil condition. "The ground didn't compact. It was aerated by the crystals because they swell up and then dry down, leaving little pockets of air in the soil."
No one knows how long the crystals will last since they've only been tested for the past 6 years, but in laboratories researchers have rehydrated the crystals thousands of times, raising the possibility that the crystals could last many years. When they "wear out", they'll break down into carbon dioxide and nitrogen, both of which are good for the soil.
Tucker, who is rapidly setting up farmer-dealers all over the country, says Colorado State University is testing the crystals in corn, wheat, soybeans, and sunflowers. Researcher Tony Koski says that in addition to agricultural uses, there could be a tremendous market for the crystals for use on lawns and gardens. "They consume anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of water in metro areas. If we could cut that by 10 or 20 percent, an incredible amount of water could be saved."
Tucker recommends farmers apply the crystals at a rate of about 5 lbs. per acre over a period of three years, for a total of 15 lbs. Most farmers who used the crystals last year side-dressed them to the side of growing crops, along with fertilizer. A 15-lb. bag of crystals sells for about $70.
For more information, contact: FARM SHOW Followup, George Tucker, Gyro Products Incorporated, 2940 N. Prospect, P.O. Box 7146, Colorado Springs, Colo. 80903 (ph 719 598-2586).

  Click here to download page story appeared in.

  Click here to read entire issue

To read the rest of this story, download this issue below or click here to register with your account number.
Order the Issue Containing This Story
1990 - Volume #14, Issue #1