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The use of humates on farm

October 20, 2019

We are seeing an immense interest in the use of Humic and Fulvic acids on farms and nurseries so it is important to know what they are, what they can do for you and to make sure you are not wasting your money. With so many products appearing on the market it is easy to be confused and in some unfortunate conditions, fooled.

We first need to understand the concept of Soil Humus which forms a critical part of any soil. The term Soil Humus can very easily be interchanged with Soil Health as they are one and the same thing.

Humates are the end product of decomposition.

The Humic part of the soil generates the micro biology that plants depend upon plus, it is part of the Carbon: Nitrogen Cycle. Over the past decades we have seen N applied in ever increasing amounts which has systematically burnt off this Humic element from our soils leaving them weak and ineffective (along with overuse of chemicals and other salts).

The top 15-17cm of soil weighs approximately 2,000,000Kg/Ha and contains most of the nutrients and soil life the plant needs. This is referred to as the Plough Layer. 

To maintain or increase the Organic Matter (OM)(Humus) in the soil we need to apply OM in the form of composts. This OM will break down into the necessary Organic Carbon (OC). On a soil test divide your OM number by 1.7 to get the OC level. [Simply], the OM in the soil is the dark matter that you can see and is made up of Raw material, Active Humus and Stable Humus.

The OM in the soil drastically increases the soils ability to hold water therefore is a major part of a drought resistance strategy. The microbes in the soil (both bacterial and fungal) emit a gum like mucilage (and Glomalin in the case of Mycorrhiza) to bond soil particles together to give that healthy tilth which we all look for. A dry dusty soil (with no worms) is the result of low OM and low numbers of soil microbiology. Humus also buffers nutrients with a high CEC and can hold both positive and negative ions (Cations and Anions).

When Humus levels are increased we see rapid solubilisation of materials such as Rock Phosphate, Lime, Gypsum, and Rock Dust. Humus buffers P keeping it available to the plant rather than it locking up. Humus buffers salt fertilisers therefore protecting roots from burning. In its Fulvic form it can buffer fertilisers and chemicals so well it reduces or stops leaf damage in foliar programmes.

As we see growers and farmers trying to raise their OM in the soil many products based on Humic and Fulvic acid have hit the market and some of these have a dubious pedigree due to there being no recognised quality registration around the world. Some Humic Acid products are nothing more than the insoluble Humin product ground down which can get the product a bad name (the Humin molecule is just an ideal soil improver). A good Humic and Fulvic acid can really make the difference between a good crop and an excellent crop. Also, we are seeing some growers reducing their fertiliser applications (and certainly the N applications) by up to 30% and [much] more…

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