For over 200 years, soil science has used the term “humus”. Humus has been defined as decomposed organic matter, which has steadier decomposition than initial biomass. There are many hypotheses how humus is formed, but as yet no satisfactory explanation has been presented.
by Dr. Boris V. Levinsky, Russia
For over 200 years, soil science has used the term “humus”. Humus has been defined as decomposed organic matter, which has steadier decomposition than initial biomass. There are many hypotheses how humus is formed, but as yet no satisfactory explanation has been presented. We are still trying to discover why that relentless process of decomposition of organic mass in soil (it happens only in soils) does not go to the end, to final carbonic gas and water, but only stops at the stage where simple products of decomposition: amino acids, carbohydrates and phenols, turn into very complex products – Humic Acids.
The property of these remarkable combinations are so unique that even if we joined the efforts of all chemists of the world we could not manage to synthesize anything similar. Humic acids have been presented to us by Mother Nature and they link the evolution of living and lifeless matter.
Humic acids are compounds of a complex structure, which are insoluble with exception of a small part named Fulvic Acids. But treatment with alkaline turns them into soluble salts such as potassium humate, sodium humate, ammonium humate, etc. Correctly solublized humates possess physiological activity, which was first proven by Professor Khristeva (Ukraine), more than 50 years ago. Her discovery could have played a significant role in the world’s agriculture, but unfortunately it did not meet support of communist party leaders and officials of the former USSR. Practical usage of humates in the former USSR was mainly experimental, in permitted and selected forms, but without wider usage. Information was published and discussed only among scientific circles, which were virtually unknown to the public.
Over the last 50 years, interest in humates comes and goes, but what I can state, is that there is always a demand for humates, because their use is the best way to increase yields, reduce fertilizer consumption and improve soil structure. Usage of humates in other countries: Slovenia, Italy, United States, and Australia was developing very slowly, despite the efforts of very well known specialists, Drs. Faust, Lee, Bartlett, Senn, Obreza and others. Other reasons for that, were the absence of an efficient production technology of humate related products, and supply to the market with low quality products.
An efficient technology was created, and a production line set up in 1993 in Irkutsk, Russia. At the same time Australian and Russian scientists worked out modern methods of analyses of humate structure, based on interpretation of functional groups, NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) spectrogroups, which correlate with the physiological activity of humic acids. It gives hope for these remarkable products and their derivatives to be used internationally for everyone’s benefit.
Humic acids are defined as complex aggregates of brown to dark colored amorphous high molecular weight substances, united by general principle of structure, but have some distinctions, which depend on raw material. As chemical functions they are aromatic carboxyl acids, with aromatic nucleuses of low degree of condensation which are incorporated by parts of non aromatic character. Presence of aromatic nucleuses with mobile p-type electrons and various functional groups at a nucleus and in lateral circuits and also paramagnetic centers cause their ability to ionic exchange, complex formation, tautomeria, and oxidizing-reduction reactions.
Thus it is necessary to understand, that the nature of the humic acid molecule is neutral, atoms of hydrogen of carboxyl, hydroxyl and phenol groups are partially substituted by ions of iron, aluminum, calcium, magnesium. In this condition the molecule is not biologically active, it is braided (in analogy with protein) in a roll and insoluble. Mainly because of that, the natural humus is not washed out into the world’s oceans, keeping fertility in the soils. Only under the influence and action of alkalines on ions of sodium, potassium, or ammonia, substitute hydrogen and other metals in carboxyl and phenol groups dissociate, resulting in the whole length of the vast molecule distributing a negative charge, causing mutual repulsion of its fragments. The molecular roll turns into a straight chain of molecules of humate, and becomes soluble and ready to carry out its biological reaction.
Polyhedral influence of humates is caused by their simultaneous influence on all compositions of future harvest: water, soil and plant. Penetrating the water, humates change its structure, so that it becomes more organized and arranged like fragments of ice structure. As a result the water gets the well known properties of “melted water”, improving plant nutrition. Penetrating the soil, humates restore its structure; convert soluble forms of lead, mercury, cadmium and other harmful and radioactive elements, including industrial remains of poisons, and environmentally dangerous chemicals, into insoluble forms. But besides that, humates form complexes with phosphorus and micro elements which are easy assimilated by plants, and sharply increase efficiency of mineral fertilizers. Penetrating a plant, and acting to a plant on a cellular level, humates improve germination of seeds, speed up plant development, stimulate enzyme formation, increase resistance to droughts, frost and radiation, increase cell energy, promoting formation of chlorophyll, vitamin C, sugar and amino acids and other important components. Humates regulate plant metabolism in such a way that prevents accumulation of nitrates, selectively improving penetration of cell membranes for ions of potassium.
Demonstrable results of the use of humates, are overall, a direct increase of harvest of all agricultural products. Practical experience of humate usage in Russia and other former USSR republics has confirmed the following significance of harvest increase: wheat 13-25%, barley 15-17%, buckwheat and millet 25-50%, corn 30% with biomass 6-20%, potato, carrot, beet, radish 25-40%, cotton 10-30%, cucumbers 34-38%, tomatoes 20-30%, cabbage 25-35%, apples 8-20%, grape 25-30%, all citrus 30-60%, pasture up to 100%. Flower growing companies are supplying information that shows increases in the quantity of roses and lilies 30-100%, increased rooting, and a reduction in time until blossoming of 10-15 days.
It has been proven that humates increase not only the quantity, but the quality of agricultural products, they accumulate more nutritious elements. For instance, humates allow increased content of vitamin C: in beets up to 100%, in radish up to 30%; Carotene: in beets up to 100%, in cabbage up to 25%; Riboflavin: in the same vegetables 8-14%, Niacin: in beets up to 79%, in cabbage up to 42%, in radish 50%. Leaves of beets and cabbage increased content of protein 16-18%, phosphorus 26-28%. Potatoes have a higher content of starch, flax got better quality of fiber and higher quantity of oil in seeds. Also remarkable, is that humic substances sharply increased content of nuclear acids in cotton, content of oil in sunflower seeds, content of sugar and vitamin C in tomatoes up to 45%. So, we can make a conclusion that stimulation of biochemical processes in the cell, which is connected with intensification of energetic exchange, provides high quality products with high content of nutritious elements.
Growing levels of ionic radiation and the pollution of the environment by pesticides, metal compounds and other toxic elements, being characterized as having mutational and carcinogenic abilities, are very dangerous for all living organisms. That’s why the protection function of humates has serious significance. This protection function has a wide sphere of action: protection from drought, frost, radiation, industrial toxic wastes, and agricultural pesticides. The protection action of humates is a result of a coordination with plant cells which improves general resistance. This phenomenon was discovered by Professor Khristeva and her students. Siberian and Ukraine harvests were saved many times from droughts and frosts. She proved the fact that plants treated with humates gain resistance to radiation. It was also proved that spraying and watering of all types of vegetation with 0.01% solution of humate, sharply activated soils, activated microorganisms, and improved adaptation of plants to industrial pollution. Humates speed up water exchange, physiological and oxidizing processes, promoting better nutrition and feed exchange, especially when the condition of healthy nutrition is worse than the norm and polluted by industrial wastes.
Cultivation of different agricultural products, such as: corn, potato, cucumbers, lettuce, etc., require use of high quantities of nitrogen fertilizer, but after treatment with humates, an average 50% reduction in the requirement of nitrogen addition was noted. It was proven in the United States that humate usage fully prevents and helps to cure the plant disease, chlorosis.
One of the major problems of agriculture is the effective assimilation of mineral fertilizers. The problem is, high soluble potassium and nitrogen base fertilizers are easily washed out from the soil, but phosphate fertilizers, vice versa, attach themselves to ions of potassium, magnesium, aluminum, iron turning into inert insoluble forms unavailable for plants. But in presence of humates, efficiency of fertilizer’s assimilation is much higher. Assimilation of nitrogen and potassium fertilizers is increased by 100 times, because of increase of membrane penetration. The combination of humates with mineral fertilizers guaranties their full assimilation.
Humates play an important role in transportation of micro elements. Humic acids are natural complex formers (chelators). Thousands of years ago they were accumulating important micro elements in nature, in available plant forms. Treatment of vegetating plants with humates provides constant nutrition of the plants with micro elements.
Fertility of soils was always connected with presence of humus. Humic substances take part in regulation of practically all soil properties. First, humates stimulate development of all kinds of microorganisms in the soil, which speed up soil cleaning and restoration, and speed up humus accumulation. Second, humates form color and consequently thermal conditions, which is very important for “cool” clay soils, they even get “warmer”. Third, long time treatment of soils with humates improves soil structure. The formed humate potassium and magnesium become mineral bridges, structuring soil. We can form the conclusion that humates help a plant produce necessary enzymes, which allow it to form resistance and grow stronger at every stage of development.
Professor Khristeva has used results of her observations, and formulated the idea that the same processes should proceed with all living organisms. Humates were tested as an addition to chicken feed. It was discovered that it activates synthesis of protein exchange, resulting in increase of chicken weight on average 10%, and survival on average 14%. Important practical results appeared in cattle and fish breeding. Humic products facilitate a calf’s birth, and increase calf weight on average 13%. Humates act as preventive and medicinal remedies.
Humates are more effective in the early stage of plant and animal development, and the best result of treatment or usage is achieved in unfavorable environments. For instance, the harvest of corn and potatoes treated with humates had been saved when the July temperature in Siberia had dropped to -12° Celsius (10° Farenheit). In another case, 42% of chickens were saved when one of the Irkutsk poultry farms had a shortage of food. Moreover, biomass of chickens was increased by up to 20%. During that experiment antibiotics and vitamins were excluded from the diet.
The above mentioned information is true only to high quality humic products. Unfortunately, not all the products offered to the market under the name “humic” are of a high quality. I strongly believe that, after we checked different sources of humate supply, I came to the conclusion that humates can be divided into four groups.
First group offered to the market, is a group (in raw form) without the special processing of lignite. It is fossilized brown oxidized lignite or Leonardite. This product has 30-40% humic acid content, 30-40% of mineral part – ash, and the balance is presented by unknown ballast substances. Recommended application norms of these products are very high and I doubt they perform with good results, because first, humic acids in them are insoluble and are not in an active form. Second, mineral content of these products have metals which bind to humic acids. Third, long time usage of these products pollute the soil.
Second group is represented by humates produced in the common method of treatment of lignites with concentrated alkalines. The content of humic acids of these products is within the level of 20-30%. Humates here are in active form, but still they have a high content of ballast and ash, which causes above mentioned problems.
Third group of humates is represented by soluble humates produced in the way of treatment of brown lignite or Leonardite with alkaline solutions. These humates are high quality products, because they are free from ballast, but they are very expensive and difficult to transport and handle. Moreover the production process leaves a lot of waste.
Fourth group are humates produced from a high quality tested lignites, with over 70% humic acid content, less than 12% mineral ash part and 18% organic ballast. These soluble products are in powder form with 75-85% humic acids.
The quality of humate products can be defined from their content of soluble humic (or fulvic) acids. We should bear in mind the fact, that tests should examine important characteristics of humic acids such as: Quinone, Carboxyl, Phenol, and Amino Groups and condensed Aromatic nucleuses. There are several methods to define those characteristics, but the more complete information regarding humate content, gives interpretation of functional groups NMR (Nuclear Magnetic
Resonance). All molecule fragments of humic acid were divided by Australian scientists (T. V. Verheyen, 1982) into 5 classes, which give exact signals in different areas of the spectrum:
Class A – Ketone, Carbonyls, Carboxyls and Quinone
Class B – Phenol Carboxyls and Nitrogen substituted atoms of Carbon
Class C – Aromatics and Hetrocyclic
Class D – Aromatic protonized atoms of Carbon
Class E – Methyl and Methylene groups
The higher the predominance of classes A – D, the higher the activity of humates. Groups of class E are ballasts. It is quite obvious that the content of groups A – D depend on the degree of the oxidation of humate. This testing method was improved in Irkustk State University, which has allowed us to test more humate products manufactured in Russia, Ukraine, the US and other places.
The data of this article shows that effective usage of humates, in every particular case, depends on various factors. The main factors are the condition of soils and necessary norm of nutrition elements. That is why we see the importance in development of complex preparations, like mineral fertilizers with humate coating, and micro fertilizers, including necessary micro-elements and humates. I am confident these complex compounds are the future of agriculture.
In conclusion, I want to formulate directions for scientific research and practical usage of humates in agriculture.
Create a group or team of scientists in the chemical, agronomy, soil research, microbiological fields for studying of humates’ influence on plants, and test all humate products offered to the world market.
Prepare full and exact recommendations and technology of usage of humates for different types of crops.
Develop production of high quality humates, using best high-tech technologies and know-how.
This article was written exclusively for Fulvica BioScience’s Health ALERT, by Dr. Boris Levinsky. Original was translated from Russian into English by Dr. Andrei U. Ageev, Russia, and Graeme McRae, New Zealand. Additional translation and editing was completed by Brent R. Stucki, U.S.A.
Dr. Boris V. Levinsky is one of the premier world leaders in humic substance research and development. His work has been centered at Irkutsk University in Eastern Siberia,, Russia. He is a Doctor of Technical Sciences. Was born in 1935. His qualifications are: Senior research worker of the Institute of Rare Metals (Irkutsk 1960-1966); The Dean of the Chair of Physical and Colloid Chemistry of Irkutsk State Medical Institute (Irkutsk 1966-1971); Chief of the Dept. of The Institute of Rare Metals (1972 – 1996). Research works and interests: colloid chemistry, flotation of ores, insulation materials and their usage in gold mining and construction industries, chemistry of coal, humates, humic acids their use and production.