A new organic soil conditioner that makes good use of water also increases alfalfa yields by 1 1/2-2 tons per acre.

That's according to grower Rodney Hall, Malta, ID, who tested PenaTron on fall-seeded alfalfa in 1996 and '97.

Manufactured by Maz-Zee S.A. International, San Diego, CA, the product consists of 28 natural interactive components, says Adrian Arp, a company technical representative.

Lest you think this is just another snake-oil product, other farmers and crop consultants also report yield increases. And PenaTron performed well in Texas A&M University cotton trials.

The conditioner is said to contain enzymes and microorganisms to activate soil microbes, natural wetting agents to ensure better soil wetting and water movement, and root stimulants. It also offers other minerals and nutrients that enhance plant growth and reduce plant stress.

Hall, who farms 1,200 acres of irrigated alfalfa, tested PenaTron on 100 acres of new seeding next to 80 untreated acres.

"The treated field remained green all winter, even in zero-degree temperatures," he reports. "The other field turned brown. In the spring of 1997, we dug up some roots on the treated field, and they were 18" long. Roots on the untreated field were 6" long."

The field outyielded the control field by at least 1/2 ton per acre on each of the three cuttings.

Albert Lockwood, Twin Falls, ID, will apply it to new alfalfa ground this year after seeing a big difference in treated potatoes.

"Before, we had a five-day irrigation rotation on our potatoes," says Lockwood. "With PenaTron, we're at seven days. The soil makes better use of the water. With what it is doing for the soil on potatoes, I believe I'll also see good results on my alfalfa."

Company alfalfa tests in Idaho have consistently shown yield increases, says Arp. In loamy soil, a 1-gallon early growth treatment and a 1/2-gallon treatment at 5-6" of regrowth produced 9.1 tons per acre compared to 7.2 tons of non-treated alfalfa. On silty soil, treated alfalfa yielded 10.2 tons; untreated alfalfa, 8.5 tons.

The product also benefits other forages. Allen Diffendaffer, Rocky, OK, treated 22 acres of Plains Bluestem. Protein and TDN levels both increased.

Aubrey Dromgoole, a western Oklahoma crop consultant, will work with Oklahoma State University on PenaTron research plots this year.

"We're seeing good results on different bermudagrasses treated with the product," he says. "We grow more stem, but the grass is sweeter on ground treated with PenaTron. Cattle walk across the non-treated to get to it."

Joseph Kuti, Texas A&M University researcher at Kingsville, is in his fourth year of testing PenaTron on cotton.

"This compound changes the soil and gives it a better texture," says Kuti. "We get higher yields and higher-quality cotton. It should also work well on alfalfa and other crops."