Not all molasses is created equal, and whether you’re putting it on your toast, feeding the biology in your soil or giving your plants the kickstart they need to overcome in-season stressors, it’s important to know what you’re paying for.
As an industry, we’ve known for the past decade, some of us much longer, that molasses is a key ingredient in stimulating soil microbial communities – much like stray cats, if you feed them, they will come. But did you know that molasses is also a booster-kit for plant growth and stress mitigation?
When molasses is used a foliar spray, it helps to stimulate plant growth, increase yield and improve plant health. It’s good stuff.
But, as we said, not all molasses is created equal. In fact, some aren’t even suitable for soil amendment or foliar application.
Here’s what you need to know:
Quality and quantity matter in just about everything we do in agriculture, and molasses production is no different. Less is more when it comes to the sugar refining process that produces what we think is sugar’s greatest byproduct. A lightly refined sugar produces the most and best quality of molasses and with a choice between light, dark and blackstrap molasses, unsulphered blackstrap molasses is the best choice for soil and foliar application. Blackstrap molasses contains high levels of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and other minerals and is a product of the third boiling of beet or cane juice.
Even within the grades of blackstrap molasses, there is performance and efficacy variation.
Feed grade molasses, for example, is derived from undetermined sugar beet or sugar cane grade which creates variation in the water to sugar ratio, a direct effect to the Brix percentage. The varying water:sugar ratio creates inconsistencies in sugar composition, mineral concentration, nutrient composition, vitamin composition and protein value, which are also a common casualty of the high-heat sterilization. Other deterrents of plant nutrition come from additives meant to increase intake and palatability for livestock.
Unsulphered blackstrap molasses find value in products designed for plant nutrition because of the viscosity and heavier specific gravity that allows them to perform well as “stickers” or drift retardants and the consistency of vitamins, minerals, proteins and nutrients.
Farmers looking to implement a molasses foliar solution should look for options that contain unsulphered blackstrap molasses that provide the additional formulation information.
“The blackstrap molasses that we use in Sweet Success is cured over lower heat for longer periods of time,” says Concept AgriTek Director of Agronomy, Bert Riggan. “The lower heat and longer duration create a deeper caramelization without destroying the entire biological component and eliminates the chance for fermentation. We’re also looking at the ratio of sucrose, glucose and fructose and the micro and macro nutrients to ensure essential nutrients are available for plant development. These are all things that farmers should be looking for regardless of which product they are buying and who they are buying it from. If a company won’t share this information, you’re probably not getting your money…or your plant’s…worth.”
The agriculture industry may not be using your grandma’s molasses, but that doesn’t mean that the options today are any less sustainable. Being a byproduct of the sugar industry means that molasses is a renewable resource that is not harmful to the environment or the farmer mixing the tank. Molasses is one tool in the production agriculture toolbox that allows farmers to create more resilient plants to fight in-season stressors and improve yields while being kind to the bottom line and environment. If molasses isn’t on your foliar application list, maybe it’s time to take a look.