Technically speaking, humates are the salts of humic acids. These are found in humus which is formed by the decomposition of vegetable and animal matter. These are the simple facts of life. Without humus and humic acids no plants can grow or survive.
For years we have understood that humus is important, often set in examination papers. Humus is identified as contributing to healthy, strong and soil beneficial properties.
Today, research and development (R&D) has examined the properties of humus more closely and serious beneficial conclusions have been brought to our attention.
The acids humic, ulmic and fulvic are essential to plants in three basic ways:
1. Humic acids enable plants to extract the nutrients from the soil (both natural and applied, i.e. fertiliser inputs, etc.).
2. Ulmic acids stimulate and drastically increase root growth.
3. Fulvic acids help plants overcome stress.
Due to its composition and the presence of the humic acids, humates help to significantly aerate the soil while aiding moisture retention. Nutrient management is naturally a key benefit from this unique, totally organic, natural earth.
Humates are developed from prehistoric deposits found in many regions throughout the world, but predominantly in the United States of America. The composition of plants that lived over 70 million years ago pass on their vitality of life to future generations through these ancient compost heaps.
Microorganisms obtain their energy and nutrients directly from the soil. Through decomposition processes the microorganisms break down these substances to a very concentrated form of humic acids and minerals as well as gases, water and toxins. As any vegetable or animal matter decomposes it creates humus. Over time, these natural compost piles first become peat then humate, then leonadite, lignite and, eventually, coal.
People often confuse organic fertilisers such as manure or sludge with humates. They assume one fertiliser works as well as another but, unlike sewage sludge, manure and other waste products which require a period of time to further decompose in order to become active and available to benefit the soil and plants, the humate mineral content of our soil solution products are available to work immediately in the soil.
Brief History of Humates
Humus has been around since time began. The Romans were aware of it, but it was not until the 18th century that soil scientists discovered humic acids, and not until the early 1960s has science been able to find a way to analyse humus and humates, in particular its humic acid content.
Research work was performed in agricultural universities. Unfortunately, research grants were made primarily from commercial fertiliser companies, many of which consider humates a major competitor due to the positive research information now being extracted.
For instance, if companies see that, by undertaking soil conditioning with high quality humate, there is a one third reduction in the need for a fertiliser, this would lead to serious effects on their business. Therefore, the effectiveness of humic acids has not received publication. From a fertiliser company's point of view it is better that you are not aware of humates, otherwise you may get interested in the one or two high quality products that have come onto the market in the past few years.
Humates time has now come. More and more turf managers are becoming aware of these products. Today's public is aware of the effects of chemicals and fertilisers on the soil and the soils population and, of course, of humus. The fact is that our soils are becoming even more depleted in essential nutrients.
During my day to day agronomy I see more toxic material ever present in the soil. Blacklayer, just to mention one specific problem, is seen in all sporting environments. Scientific research has shown that humate can restore the vitality of the soil and increase the soil capacity to retain moisture and even help chemical fertilisers become more effective. By participating in a soil amelioration programme you are doing your part, as a professional and caring turf manager, to help your environment as well as improving the health and well being of your working environment.
Tell me more!
Intensive agricultural and horticultural systems demand the use of large quantities of mineral fertilisers in order to satisfy the plant's needs with essential basic micro and macro elements such as nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). In doing so, we often forget that mineral fertilisers are for plants.
With such systems you can see immediate high results but tend to ignore the future consequences. The higher the amount of mineral fertilisers used the more intensive is the erosion of the soil, the poorer the soils humus content and the environment is more polluted.
The problem of effective mineral fertiliser assimilation is critical in plant growing. The difficulty of its solution lies in the fact that water soluble potassium and nitrogen fertilisers are easily wasted from the soil, while, on the contrary, phosphorus fertiliser bonds with ions of calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), aluminium (Al) and iron (Fe) that are present in the soil to form inert compounds which are inaccessible to the plants.
However, the presence of humic substances substantially increases effective assimilation of all mineral nutrition elements.
Tests have shown that humate treatments (with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) greatly improve the plant's development and the capacity of the sward to tolerate all detrimental factors, while decreasing the use of the mineral fertiliser (V. Kovalenko, M. Sowko 1973). The tests with humate, particularly on phosphorus, achieved an unexpected positive result.
Phosphorus, previously locked within the fibre content of the sward, is now being released to the plant. This is significant as many greens and fine turf areas have, over the years, received an excess, promoting severe problems such as Poa Annua (Annual Meadow Grass).
Therefore, the combination of high humates and mineral fertilisers guarantee totally effective assimilation of plants.
Consequently, treating your sward and environmental situation, particularly the plants, with humates of a high humic acid concentration ensures their continuous nutrition with vital macro and micro elements.
Humates - Microorganisms working in partnership
Microorganisms granulate the soil and this aerates it to facilitate the infusion of water and air. The depth of aerated top soil determines the quality and quantity of the local microorganism and the life compounds they make available to the plant.
In simple terms, microorganisms are the cement mixers of life, they "eat and poop". The more they eat the more they poop. They break down high molecular elements into low molecular elements, which the plant's roots can now pull from to use throughout their processes. This eating and pooping ensures nutrients are made available to the plant by the root biomass and not leached from the soil.
Microorganisms are essential for health and well being.
Humates are the bug "viagra". They are positively active as a result of their high quality. In fact, a bacteria will go through its full life processes within a twenty-four minute period. Taking account of this factor, by feeding the correct "viagra", i.e high quality humates, a gramme of soil will possess over six million microorganisms. In twenty-four hours this same population will drastically increase in excess of thirty million, thus resulting in a very inexpensive method of improving fertility and nutrient management. In fact, many other benefits have been recognised as a result of such harmony.
Microorganism activity in one acre of soil uses about the same amount of energy in soil preparation as 10,000 people would burn for carrying out the same work, for the same period of time. Microorganisms must be protected and nourished and replaced in the event of death.
Mycorrhizal Fungi (The Good Guys)
Mycorrhizal fungi are short lived, surviving less than two weeks before being digested by the host plant.
Humates and Mycorrhizal fungi serve as predatory parasites, with a network trapping service to catch and hold pathogenic parasites. Together they amplify growth, intensify plant development and minimise water loss and drought. They intensify absorption of minerals and trace elements and produce antibiotics to fight off parasitic enemies.
Balanced humic acids, as in quality humates sold today, along with healthy microorganisms, serve as growth regulating stimulants.
So, with all this positive information, which product do I buy?
At this point I would like to emphasise that all previous comments are correct only for high quality humate preparations.
Unfortunately, not all of the preparations available on the market under the name of 'Humate' truly meet this requirement. Of course, it is not due to the deliberate carelessness of the companies, it is just that no agreed international standards or analysis methods exist.
Humic acids are often called humates and vice versa, in spite of the fact that there is a big difference between the two terms. It is possible to take brown coal, slack, etc. directly from the pit and crush it into a small granule and apply it to a field, sward or soil, thinking that by doing so we have increased the humus content of the soil. In reality, while introducing a certain amount of humic acids in a biologically inactive form, unfortunately up to three to four times more ballast ends up in the soil at the same time and, I am sure, this 'fertiliser' can do more harm than good.
Certain companies take the brown coal, containing only 20% humic acids, treat it with concentrated NaOH solution, dry the mixture slightly and claim that it is a humate. True, the product contains 20% or so of sodium humate, but mineral and organic ballast present in it would diminish all the potentially positive effects.
Certain fertiliser suppliers and distributors have humates granulated around their fertilisers, in order for them to state that they have fertilisers with humate. Humates are the in thing, and rightly so, but be careful.
Lignite 20% humic acids are a poor subsitute. They may contain as much as 65% water. In fact, no one has proved that lignite is attached by microorganisms.
Leonardite is a soft coal associated with virtually all lignite outcrops in North Dakota, often referred to as slack. Leonardite is termed after A.G. Leonard, a North Dakota miner. Leonardite has more oxygen in it than Lignite and 10% more humic acid in general.
When purchasing humates and humate associated products, ask the supplier for a data sheet that clearly defines the humic acid content. If they do not provide the necessary information then the decision to use it is all yours.
If a data sheet (original supplier's copy) is forthcoming you need to know the humic, fulvic and ulmin percentages. The higher they are the better, i.e. 60% to 90%.
Even with this valuable information price may be the factor to govern your choice. However, what appears the cheapest may be deceptive.
Dynamic soil power equals dynamic plant power
Successful management of productive soil involves:
1. Avoiding compaction of the soil, which causes poor productivity due to restricted water percolation and air flow around the roots and makes it difficult for the roots to expand through the soil.
2. Avoiding overuse of pesticides, which destroy beneficial microorganisms and earthworms.
3. Using humic and fulvic substances along with microbial influences to provide polysaccharied for plant energy.
4. Encouraging the intensified activity of mycorrhizal contributes to the soil quality.
5. Using humic and fulvic substances to encourage microorganisms and earthworm population, which produce better aeration and soil stability, water infiltration and percolation.
6. Carefully following dosage directions for the proper humic acid application of organic supplements to your soil.
Remember, dynamic soil power equals dynamic plant power, providing you with your sward, safety, and wear and tear and profitability, i.e. saving on budgets!
For more information on humates email DHBatesservices@aol.com or telephone 01543 450757 or 07736 066031