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How to measure product performance with Brix

I often get asked about the use of a refractomer and Brix readings as a tool to evaluate plant health. It can be a useful tool in the hands of a dedicated frequent user. However, the tool provides highly variable readings, and requires an observant and experienced user to produce a reliable indicator of crop health. I described the reasons we don’t use a refractometer as a management tool in this blog post.

The best method I am aware of to accurately use a refractometer as a management tool was described by Arden Andersen in his book Science in Agriculture:

Of course, you can achieve similar outcomes much more accurately and easily and without the extensive time requirements when you use sap analysis.


Construct two or more plastic or wire rings that encircle a 5 or 10 square-foot area. The area of a circle is 3.1417 times the radius squared. The circumference of a circle is 2 times 3.1417 times the radius. A ring encircling 5 square feet would have a diameter of 2.523 feet (30.28 inches) and a circumference of 7.93 feet (95.15 inches). A ring encircling 10 square feet would have a diameter or 3.568 feet (42.8 inches) and a circumference of 11.21 feet (134.52 inches). Because there are 43,560 square feet in an acre, 10 square feet equal 1/4356 of an acre. Using a 10 square foot ring makes calculations easier, but this size of ring is more difficult to carry around unless you make it so that it can be disassembled.

Take these rings to the field and drop them 3 to 5 feet apart. One ring will be used as a control or check area; the others will be designated as test areas. Check the refractometer reading within each ring and record these readings. Be consistent with the methodology and the parts of the plants used for these readings so each test area is sampled identically.

In a spray bottle, mix the exact fertilizer and water ratio that your sprayer is calibrated to apply. For example, if you would apply 2 quarts per acre of 6-12-6 in 20 gallons of water, you would mix 0.8 ounces of 6-12-6 in 1 quart of water. Twenty gallons equal 80 quarts, so a 1-quart mix for your spray bottle would be 1/80 of your per-acre mix. This is calculated by multiplying 2 quarts by 32 fluid ounces per quart to get 64 ounces. Divide 64 by 80 to get 0.8 ounces of 6-12-6 for 1 quart of water.

Next, you need to determine the number of squirts from the spray bottle to apply to the 10 square-foot test area in order to equal a spray rate of 20 gallons per acre. Because 10 square feet equal 1/4356 of an acre that would get 20 gallons of spray, you would apply 1/4356 of 20 gallons or approximately 0.6 ounces, which is about 2.4 tablespoons. This is calculated by multiplying 20 gallons by 128 fluid ounces per gallon (2,560 ounces), and dividing this number by 4,356. Because there are about 4 tablespoons per ounce, 0.6 ounces times 4 tablespoons per ounce equals 2.4 tablespoons.

Take a measuring cup and count the number of squirts from your 1-quart spray bottle to equal 0.6 ounces or 2.4 tablespoons. This is the number of squirts you will apply to your 10-square-foot test area to equal the amount that would be applied if you sprayed the field with your sprayer at 20 gallons per acre.

After misting this spray mix on the test area, wait 30 to 60 minutes and recheck the refractometer reading of the crop in the test area, as well as the control. If the brix reading in the test area increased by at least two full points net, the spray is desirable and would benefit the field. You can then spray the entire field with the confidence that the spray is beneficial. You can mix several different sprays and check each one. If the refractometer reading remains unchanged or drops, the spray is undesirable for that particular day for that particular crop. It is not necessarily a reflection on the product quality, but rather the plant’s need at that time. The only exception to this guideline is when there might be a delayed reaction where no change in refractometer reading is observed for several hours. In this case, leave the rings in the field for 24 hours and recheck the brix reading of both the control and test areas. If an increase in the brix reading of the test area is observed, this spray would then be sprayed on the entire field. The delayed response might occur where a specific prescription has been formulated for a particular field and the spray test is a verification of its appropriateness. The delay could be a result of weather, temperature, water, and so on.

Keep in mind that, before and during a storm, the refractometer readings of the growing crop will be lower, as they will after several days of cloudy weather. The lower the nutrient reserve, the more these refractometer values will be lowered by such circumstances. Imperative to maintaining adequate crop brix readings is the continuous maintenance of the soil conductivity reading. It must remain above a net 200 ergs, or you will not be able to hold the brix above 12 when you do get it to that level.

It is recommended that you purchase an automatic temperature compensated refractometer so that your readings will be more accurate and you will not have to calibrate the refractometer every time the temperature changes.

To reiterate, be consistent in the location of the plant where the refractometer reading is taken. The poorer the plant’s health (correlated to lower refractometer readings), the more the brix readings will vary throughout the plant and throughout the day and season. Always compare the refractometer values in the test area with those in the control area.

You desire a net increase, meaning an increase over the change observed in the control. If the control area had no change and your test area increased by two points, you have a net increase of two. But if the control area increased by one (which can happen as the sun rises in the morning) and your test area increased by two, you have a net increase of one.

The question often arises: How can commodities with high refractometer readings have insect and disease problems? Common examples include sweet com at 24 brix having corn ear worms, and grapes at 18 brix having white flies, mites, and leaf hoppers. The answer is that the refractometer reading taken at the weakest part of the plant in question must be considered. The aforementioned problems indicate that the refractometer readings were taken of selected plant parts (e.g., ear, plant) only, and not of all the parts of the plant. The weakest link determines the outcome of insect and disease infestation. An ear of com at 24 brix with corn ear worms inevitably will have leaf or stalk refractometer readings below 12. Grapes at 18 brix with insect infestation inevitably will have cane or leaf refractometer readings below 12 brix.

With apples, the opposite seems to occur. An apple with apple scab fungus will itself have a low refractometer reading (below 12); however, the leaves on the branch supporting the sick apple will have very high refractometer values (above 12 or even in the upper 20s). In any event, there is a mineral imbalance/deficiency in the crop.

Modern hybridization has produced plants that create such previously mentioned imbalances to satisfy cosmetic desires without considering mineral balance or the plant’s natural ability to satisfy cosmetic desires if it is just provided with the necessary mineral to do so. Hybridization has resulted in plants that will accumulate sugars in given parts, yet not be able to metabolize, transfer, or convert them to plant parts.

2020-06-23T14:24:47-05:00July 1st, 2020|Tags: , |

Politics of peer review and published literature in regenerative agriculture systems

I have participated in several discussions recently about the inherent challenges of research to evaluate regenerative agriculture systems and management practices, and the general shortfall of much of academia in stepping up to be leaders in this space. This is clearly a multifaceted conversation. One I believe it is important to engage in and seek to produce the changes we would all like to see.

I came across this commentary from Arden Andersen and thought it worth sharing and reflecting on. Since this was published in 2000, some things have changed, and more have remained the same. How can we make it better?

Peer Review And Politics 1

It is ironic that would-be scientists insist on seeing new discoveries and work printed in peer-review literature because they really have no understanding what they are asking. Pioneers have no peers and certainly no peer publications to publish their work. When Bruno suggested that the earth revolved around the sun, he was put to death by his peers. Galileo was threatened with torture by his peers for suggesting the same thing. Simmelweis’s peers ran him out of his homeland for suggesting that physicians wash their equipment and hands between patients. Nikola Tesla was laughed at by his peers, including Thomas Edison, for suggesting that alternating-current electricity ought to be the electricity of the day. Although Tesla patented more than 1,000 inventions, his works in “free energy,” resonance, and biophysics are still ostracized in the peer literature. Albert Abrams was considered a genius until he demonstrated a cure for cancer and other diseases thought to be incurable; then his peers labeled him a madman. Wilhelm Reich was jailed by his peers for his work in orgone energy and cancer therapy.

Peer review is actually political review, designed to determine whether the work alienates the monopoly. Are non-astronauts peers of astronauts? Are non-presidents peers of presidents? Are non-pioneers peers of pioneers? I say. No. Pioneers have no peers except other pioneers. The emphasis on peer review should be secondary to results in the field. It is in the field that farmers, gardeners, and landscape “doctors” are either made or broken.

Statistics are another flag commonly waved by many classroom agriculturalists. There are volumes and volumes of statistics that supposedly validate modern chemical agricultural practices, yet the system is still failing. Statistics have the inherent flaw that they represent only what the researcher wants them to portray; this information is often skewed from reality. If I surveyed all the alfalfa fields in America, I would probably find that 99 out of 100 had hollow stemmed alfalfa. From those statistics, I would conclude that the hollow stemmed alfalfa was normal and the solid-stemmed alfalfa abnormal. In reality, hollow-stemmed alfalfa might be common, but it is undesirable/abnormal compared to optimum alfalfa. Solid-stemmed alfalfa is uncommon, but it is normal for healthy alfalfa to have solid stems. In addition, the refractometer values of the hollow-stemmed alfalfa will be significantly lower than those of the solid-stemmed alfalfa, so according to our statistical data, alfalfa should have low refractometer values. This we know is incorrect because alfalfa should have refractometer values above 12.

According to statistics, weeds, diseases, and insect pests infest crops regardless of the nutritional balance (according to conventional testing established by statistical research) of the soil and crop. This information is used to justify the continuous call for pesticide use in agriculture and the lie that Americans would starve if pesticides were not used. The reality in the field is that pests are directly correlated to a nutritional-balance threshold, below which these pests eradicate the crop and above which they leave the crop alone. Simply because the majority of the agricultural “scientists” (data collectors) in this country are unable to achieve or surpass this threshold does not invalidate the threshold. If you personally are unable to run a four-minute mile, does it invalidate the fact that it is possible for a person to run a mile in four minutes? If you are unable to make music with a piano, does it invalidate the fact that music can be made with a piano?

Agricultural authorities would like us to believe that because they have been unable to achieve nutritional thresholds in soils and crops at or above which no pest pressures occur, where yields are at record levels, and quality is unsurpassed, it simply cannot be done. Research data verifying the achievements of many “real-world” agriculturalists are needed, not to benefit the researcher or the customer because they already acknowledge the validity of the new paradigm, but to assist those who are unable to conduct such research themselves. Farmers, homeowners, and small business owners are purchasing biological products and services because they work in the field, not because there are volumes of research data sanctioning them.

There are volumes of research verifying the position of biological agriculturalists in the works of Callahan, Steiner, Albrecht, Northern, Senn, the Soviets, and others, yet it is ignored by the Land Grant University agriculturalists. Neither agriculture nor society needs the inhibition of progress so that the old guard can reinvent the wheel. Saving face is an ego trip we can ill afford, and unless agricultural institutions shed that arrogance, admit their misguided feats, and participate in viable agricultural science, they are obsolete, deterrents to progress, and an unnecessary burden on the public pocketbook. The fundamental question they need to address is: Are you going to continue to teach a lie, or are you going to participate in the solution?


Conventional agriculture claims to be scientific. Then why does conventional agriculture…

  1. Ignore the works of Callahan, Becker, Popp, and Kaznacheyev in biophysics, who repeatedly have proved that all living systems are fundamentally energetic?
  2. Ignore basic principles of chemistry concerning the interaction of compounds, the meaning of pH, the use and value of humic acids, and the formulation and manufacture of fertilizers?
  3. Ignore biology and refuse to acknowledge that proper nutritional management solves the very problems conventional agriculture attempts to circumvent by means of genetic engineering, e.g., insect-resistant crop varieties?
  4. Ignore basic geology relative to the interaction of soil particles, minerals, and humus and their correlation to soil tilth, compaction, and hardpans?
  5. Ignore basic ecology in their often-indiscriminate applications of toxic poisons, overuse of leachable fertilizers, and apathy about soil erosion and environmental integrity?
  6. Ignore the volumes of research documents in microbiology, proving and reproving the biological characteristic of the soil and the necessity of its maintenance for sound farming?
  7. Ignore the basic business-management principles of maintaining sustainability, keeping records on quality, and maximizing self-sufficiency on the farm?
  8. Ignore the fundamental common-sense precept, which is to follow the path of least resistance and acknowledge nature as the scientific model?
  9. Ignore British research showing that nonacidified, rock phosphates are far superior to high-analysis add phosphates in long-term farming systems.
  10. Ignore Soviet research showing that natural beneficial soil microorganisms can completely control soil-borne disease and pest organisms if they are provided the proper nutrition and conditions to do so.
  11. Ignore research by T. L. Senn at Clemson University on the value and use of seaweed as a fertilizer and on the characteristics and uses of humic acids in conjunction with fertilizers.
  12. Ignore the extensive use of humic acids by European farmers, for at least 15 years, to enhance the efficiency and reduce the leachability of chemical fertilizers.
  13. Sanction and perpetuate the obscuring and demoting of William Albrecht’s landmark work in soil science, as well as his forced early retirement, in order to secure substantial financial grants from a major chemical company for research having a predetermined outcome contrary to Albrecht’s documented work.

Conventional agriculture claims scientific integrity. However…

  1. Since World War II, American farmers have increased their use of agricultural pesticides tenfold—to about one billion pounds (500,000 tons) per year, yet crop loss due to agricultural pests has doubled.
  2. Soil erosion is occurring at 20 times the rate of natural replenishment, even faster than during the Dust Bowl, which occurred before the chemical Green Revolution.
  3. More than 50% of our groundwaters, lakes, and streams have been contaminated, some beyond use, with agricultural poisons and fertilizers.
  4. Pesticide-resistant weeds, diseases, and insects abound and are increasing in number. The farm population is declining and aging. Agriculturalists’ awareness and understanding of farming sustainably, profitably, and without the use of toxic chemicals is scanty in most and nonexistent in many areas of the United States.

Are these traits of good science, sound farm business management, and common sense? Absolutely, unequivocally No! These are traits of an agricultural system held captive by special-interest groups and petrochemical exploiters. It is an agricultural system held at arm’s length from true science, farm business management, and common sense, by a “religious dogma” readily exposed for what it really is by true science, sound business management, and common sense. I dare say that there is not one university agricultural department in this country that can raise any crop consistently over 12 brix at its weakest point or that has any clue as to the nutritional management necessary to do so. Yet there are farmers all across this country with little or no college education who routinely achieve such results.

The motto of conventional agriculture seems to be analogous to what the old Sicilian Mafia accountant said when asked what one plus one equaled: “What do you want it to be?” Thanks to true scientists like Philip Callahan, T. L. Senn, William Albrecht, and many others functioning primarily incognito within the conventional system, the answer to “What does one plus one equal?” is returning: “Exactly what nature intended it to be!”


  1. Andersen, A. B. Science in agriculture: Advanced methods for sustainable farming. (Acres USA, 2000).


2020-03-16T14:11:29-05:00March 10th, 2020|Tags: , |

Matching seed with soil quality

Much of the available genetics for commodity crops today are bred to perform well on imbalanced soil and are unlikely to perform as well on biologically healthy soils as varieties bred for those environments.

Here is a quote from Arden Andersen, Science in Agriculture –

Now, a poor seed will not produce good seed on poor soil, but it will produce the quantity of poor seed it was bred to produce. A poor seed on good soil results in impedance to the flow of energy back into the soil. A good seed on a poor soil causes impedance to the flow out of the soil into the plant. Therefore, seed matching is very important. The analogy can be made to two people talking to each other on their CB radios. If both CB’s are tuned to the same frequency, communication is successful. If one or the other is out of tune and can either transmit or receive but cannot do both, communication is unsuccessful. I have experienced seed matching on many acres, and without exception, those farmers employing anhydrous ammonia, potassium chloride, must use certain hybrids to obtain the desired volume of yield. The feed value is very poor, but that is of little concern to these farmers because they are selling the crop. Farmers who have well-balanced soils on biological mineralization programs will fail using the same hybrids. They must use seed grown on similar programs in order to achieve maximum efficiency.1

Back to John ~

My personal experience with alfalfa has been that the varieties bred and optimized for biological systems exceed the performance of varieties bred in the standard system across al soil types and management systems. However, mainstream alfalfa fertilization practices may not be quite as systemically damaging as annual commodity crop production.

I believe there is a lot of eagerness and desire in the market for more vigorous varieties, bred for biological systems, in many crops.

1. Andersen, A. B. Science in agriculture: Advanced methods for sustainable farming. (Acres USA, 2000). Page 83

2020-03-16T14:08:28-05:00February 28th, 2020|Tags: , , , , |
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