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Growing focus on plant food

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By Todd Martin

For years home gardeners have known about Monty's Joy Juice: The small vials of plant food that have provided nourishment for their roses and house plants since 1997.

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But Monty's Plant & Soil Products is much, much more than help for the weekend gardener.

For the past two years the company has been running a research farm on Mulberry Pike, leasing 75 acres from Paul Hornback, a faithful Monty's user.

Now Monty's has added a distribution deal around the area with Southern States, giving its large-scale farm products yet another home.

On Wednesday, Monty's brought in farmers from around the area, some from as far away Ohio, to see its research farm and how they were working to continue to improve their product and production yields for farmers.

Certified crop advisor Joe Dedman and field agronomist Gary Coughlin took farmers on a tour of the facility, showing the effects their products have on corn and soybeans, and showing some of the other combinations they have been working on.

By working with different mixtures and using both pop-up and foliar applications, the research facility can directly see the results.

"We're trying to initiate more root hairs," Dedman told the group. "It all starts there; that's what leads to a better plant and a better yield."

Less stress for plants

The goal to creating the better root system is reducing the stress on the plants.

"When plants undergo stress, that's what cuts down on the yield," he said. "What we're trying to do [with the different products] is add energy to the plants at those certain growth stages to lessen the stress. A good root system will help them get through that stress and maintain their yield capabilities."

The research farm also stresses the importance of studying the soil to help the plants.

"Just like a doctor does a full spectrum analysis when you go in for a physical, we need to get as much information as we can," Dedman said. "The soil holds a lot of that information. If we can keep the balance right in the soil, we can keep it nutrient rich and continue to get the high yield from our crops. You can't guess, just like a doctor can't just guess if you're well or not by looking at you."

Getting started

Headquartered in Louisville, but with roots in Bourbon County, so to speak, Monty's has found a home in Shelby County.

"I was working on my masters at the University of Louisville, and I got tired of driving back and forth," Monty's President Dennis Stephens said. "We started looking for research space, but university plots are small. We wanted something that would just like what farmers are doing."

At that point, Stephens said, Hornback offered some of his property.

"Now we use a combine and a planter, just like farmers do," Stephens said. "We don't want any differences."

Plus, the company has bigger plots.

The average university plot is just 3 feet by 20 feet, making it hard to judge large-scale effects. Now, with all this space, the research farm has plots as big as a half-acre.

"This has been a tremendous learning experience for us," Stephens said. "We're trying to become more efficient and learn more about what our products can do.

"We're having some success, but I think we can still improve. That's what these experiments are allowing us to do."

Stephens, whose father-in-law, Monty Justice, invented the original formula, is amazed at how far the company has come.

"He [Justice] started out putting it in Coke bottles in the late '80s," he said. "Then we tried it on the tobacco on my farm, and it works. Now, obviously, the production has gotten much bigger. We can us it on tobacco, wheat, corn or soybeans."