With some top-yielding no-tillers — including soybean yield record holder Kip Cullers — applying sugar to their crops, researchers and growers have been working to determine the value of this practice. 

From 2010-14, a group of growers with the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network applied sugar to their corn, sorghum and soybean crops to determine if there was any effect on yield. They followed Cullers’ program by applying a mixture of 3 pounds sugar (beet or cane sugar from the local grocery store) and 10 gallons of water per acre around the V7 stage in corn and sorghum and R3 stage in soybeans. 

Their research found that overall, there were no statistical yield differences between the sugar applications and untreated checks for corn and sorghum. For soybeans, there were statistical yield increases from the sugar applications in 2013 and 2014 — 1- and 2-bushel increases, respectively. 

While sugar may not have influenced corn yield, growers did find the treatment improved stalk strength by using the pinch test, where 20 corn stalks are pinched by the thumb and first finger at the first internode above the soil, a few weeks before harvest.

Perhaps the biggest benefit sugar offers is to the community of beneficial insects. Utah State University researchers examined the effects of what they called “artificial honeydew,” a sugar-water solution, in alfalfa. They found adult lacewings and lady beetles always responded positively to the solution, as well as other beneficial insects, including adult weevil parasitoid, big-eyed bugs, minute pirate bugs and adult hover flies. 

University of Nebraska Extension says in Honduras, researchers found similar results in corn. Counts of beneficial insects taken immediately after an application of a sugar-water mix were 70% higher than untreated corn, and twice as high a week after application. Fall armyworm infestations were also reduced by 18% in the sugar-treated corn.

USDA Agricultural Research Service entomologists have also seen that female lady beetles that have sugar in their diets have an increased survival rate and egg production over the beetles that were not fed sugar, suggesting sugar feeding is important for lady beetle populations. Another study saw lady beetles stayed 20-30% longer in plots where sugar-water was applied. 

Is sugar a tool you’ve implemented in your no-till operation? What’s your application process and what benefits have you seen? Leave a comment a below and share your experiences.