Humate Benefits

Overview

Humates are highly compressed, natural organic humus, the decayed remains of tropical rain forests which existed millions of years ago in what is now the southwestern United States. Humate deposits were once buried deeply but have been exhumed to near-surface conditions and oxidized by bacterial action in exactly the same way as humus is formed in rich agricultural soils. Thus, humates provide a concentrated source of naturally-occurring humus to your soil.  Humates have a high humic acid content (humic acid is one of the most biochemically active elements in humus).  The minerals and trace elements contained in humates and in the soil are readily available to plants through organic complexing. Adding Humates is the most efficient way to increase the humus content of soil, as it is highly concentrated and much easier to apply than any other form of humic matter. Also, since humates are completely decomposed, they enter into no nutritional competition with plants for nutrients such as nitrogen (not the case with incompletely decomposed compost).

Using humates restores the natural balance in soil necessary for optimal plant growth. The benefits found in this section are some of the results you can expect from applying humates. To view recent compilations of the latest research and publications regarding the benefits of humates, choose an additional publication.


Increased Crop Yields

Humates have been shown to provide a significant increase in crop yields when combined with your current fertilizer program.  Humates can improve root development, total leaf area and total crop yields per acre.

Increased Root Growth

A consistent result from all crops tested was increased root growth.  Length, density, and radius of plant roots dramatically increased.  Tests have shown that root system vigor is very important to the nutrient uptake capability of plants, as well as to the plant's ability to combat disease.  In addition, plant stability is enhanced, and plants are better able to find and absorb water with a broad based root system.

Increased Chlorophyll Content

Humic matter has been shown to increase the chlorophyll content in plants, and can prevent or correct chlorosis.

Increased Nutrient Uptake

Humates have been shown to consistently improve the uptake of nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and iron, as well as innumerable trace elements essential for plant health.  This is due to the biochemically active nature of humic acid, and its ability to form both soluble and insoluble complexes with various metals, minerals, and organics.  Nutrients are mobilized in forms that the plants can accept.

Improved Plant Quality

Humates can improve the quality of fruit, vegetables, and flowers by improving their physical appearance, and in the case of food crops, their nutritional value.  Cereal crops have shown a more balanced amino acid content, and a higher protein content.  All of this can enhance their worth in the marketplace.

Enhanced Natural Defenses

The biochemically active nature of humic acid works to enhance a plant's natural defenses against toxins and disease.  Many toxins are inhibited or neutralized directly by bonding interactions with humic acids.  In addition, biologically active compounds (such as antibiotics and phenolic acids) found in healthy humus can enhance plant resistance to some diseases.  Finally, plants which are healthy and receive all of their required nutrients are better able to combat disease and pests.

Improved Soil Structure

Humus combines with clay minerals to form structural units called aggregates. These help to stabilize the soil and increase its permeability to water and gaseous exchanges.  Also, life forms such as bacteria and earthworms, which are dependent on humus content, make a large contribution to the maintenance of soil structure. The use of humate can prevent soil cracking, which exposes roots to the air and can cause crops to burn in severe heat conditions.  Since organic matter is not water soluble, soil with a high humus content is less likely to be subject to water erosion.

Improved Water Retention

Humates can hold up to 20 times their weight in water.  By enhancing the soil's ability to retain water, humate usage can reduce the need for crop irrigation.  This can be especially helpful with sandy soils, and contributes a large measure of drought resistance to crops.

Differing Soil pH

Because of the chemical bonding interactions of humic acid, plants are able to grow in soil with more widely varying pH values. In addition the humic stimulation of microbial activity leads to a healthy soil biota which will ultimately bring the pH of the soil into a more normal range.

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Mesa Verde Humates

Mesa Verde Humates are from the Fruitland Formation in the San Juan Basin of New Mexico. The Humates (also known as leonardite or oxidized lignite) were originally formed in fresh-water swamps during the Cretaceous Period, approximately 70-80 million years ago, when a large inland sea covered most of the North American continent.

Heavy vegetation in the swamps built thick layers of peat which were rich in humus (see details below). This rich accumulation of organic matter was converted to coal through deep burial, and was subsequently exhumed to surface or near-surface conditions. Exposure of these deposits to fresh water and air enabled bacterial oxidation to take place, removing any fuel value but enriching the humates with organic acids known as humic acid and fulvic acid.

Essential Components/Characteristics of Humates
  • Long and short chain organic (humic) compounds, enzymes and proteins
  • Numerous cation and anion exchange sites
  • Capacity to organically complex mineral nutrients
  • Ability to hold nitrogen in the soil
  • Ability to increase the soil's water holding capacity
  • Provide the environment and stimulus for microbial activity
  • Contain secondary micronutrients necessary for plant life

These properties make humates the ideal material for replenishing or rebuilding the soil and stimulating plant growth. Humates increase nutrient uptake, drought tolerance and promote seed germination, as well as promoting beneficial microbial activity and stimulating the roots. In addition, humates act as a buffer against salts, harsh chemicals or harsh conditions in the soil (both high and low pH).

The Importance of Fulvic Acids

Continuing research into the role of Fulvic Acids in agriculture has shown that Fulvic Acids are the most active of the humic acid group. Fulvic Acids are shorter chain molecules which have lower molecular weights and a higher cation exchange to weight ratio than the longer chain molecules. This makes Fulvic Acids much more active in chelating nutrients and making them immediately bio-available for plant growth.  Make sure that the humates you are buying contain a significant portion of fulvic acid. Fulvic Acid content is not quantitatively measureable, however qualitative estimates of the Fulvic Acid levels in our 70% humic acid product are approximately 21%.

Note: Longer chain humic acid molecules also complex minerals organically but with the critical difference being that the nutrients (including nitrogen) are held in the long chain molecules as a "nutrient reserve" in the soil. The nutrients in this reserve are released over time to provide a stable source of nutrition for the plants. Therefore it is important to have the full range of humic acids, i.e. including Fulvic Acids in humates you are applying to your soil.

More Details on Humates

The following excerpts from: T.L. Senn and Alta R. Kingman's research (1973) give a more complete description of humates and their importance in soil management:

Waksman defines humus as "a complex aggregate of brown to dark colored amorphous substances, which have originated during the decomposition of plant and animal residues by microorganisms, under aerobic and anaerobic conditions, usually in soils, composts, peat bogs, and water basins". Chemically, humus consists of certain constituents of the original plant material resistant to further decomposition; of substances undergoing decomposition; of complexes resulting from decomposition, either by processes of hydrolysis or by oxidation and reduction; and of various compounds synthesized by microorganisms. Humus is a natural body; it is a composite entity, just as are plant, animal, and microbial substances: it is even much more complex chemically, since all of these materials contribute to its formation.

Importance of Organic Matter

Besides being a source of nutrients for the plant, and the most important factor in structure formation, organic matter has also a fundamental effect on the physical properties of the soil (water-holding capacity) and determines to a large degree such physio-chemical properties as the exchange capacity and buffering properties; these properties are of great importance, not only in controlling the uptake of nutrients by the plant and their retention in the soil, but also in suppressing the deleterious effect of soil acidity.

There is also conclusive evidence that quite small amounts of certain organic substances (highly dispersed humic acids) have a definite, positive effect on the growth and development of the plant. Much research is still needed to understand the mechanism of the process.

Role of Humic Acids

Humic acids are colloids and behave somewhat like clays, even though the nomenclature suggests that they are acids and form true salts. When the cation exchange sites on the humic molecule are filled predominantly with hydrogen ions, the material is considered to be an acid and is named accordingly. However, it has no great effect on pH because the acid is insoluble in water. When the predominant cation on the exchange sites is other then hydrogen, the material is called humate. The humates of monovalent alkali metals are soluble in water, but the humates of multivalent metals are insoluble. Apart from their effect on the solubility of the materials and their absorption by clays, the different cations have little effect on the humic molecules

The manifold effect of humic substances on the plant, shown both in the external medium and in the biochemical processes occurring in the plant, has been well demonstrated.

There is a growing interest in the use of organic materials as fertilizers or soil amendments. This may be attributed to: 1) an interest in the reduction of the use of chemical fertilizers; 2) public concern for the potential polluting effects of chemicals in the environment; and 3) a pressing need for energy conservation. The research reported herein was conducted in an effort to explore humate material as one of the organic natural resources with the potential for meeting some of these needs.

Reference: Senn, T. L. and Alta R. Kingman, 1973, A review of Humus and Humic Acids. Research Series No. 145, S. C. Agricultural Experiment Station, Clemson, South Carolina.

This study showed significant increases in yield on potatoes, soybeans and algae cultures on test plots near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Other tests in North Dakota documented yield increases in barley with or without applied mineral fertilizer (Agvise Inc., 1977-1979). Tests done by commercial farms have consistently resulted in a significant reduction in irrigation water usage on plots treated with humates, as well as better seed germination, leaf petiole growth and crop yields.

Interest in humates and their value in agriculture is increasing rapidly. There are numerous universities and commercial concerns engaged in testing / documenting the benefits of humates used in fertilizers, animal feed and environmental remediation.

Additional Publications

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