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The 7 major challenges in understanding humic acids
Sep. 28, 2020
The Humic Acid market remains one of the most challenging, confusing, and least understood aspects of the global agricultural input market. Tradecorp analysed the industry in detail and highlights the 7 major challenges for the humic acid industry on this article.
1. First of all, what does the term “Humic Acids” refer to?
In simple terms “general” Humic Acids can be described as all of the various organic acids derived from humus. Humus is the organic portion of soil, which is formed from the decomposed remains of plants, animals and soil microbiota. Humic Acids can be further subdivided into Humic Acids and Fulvic Acids, however for the purposes of this article we refer to them collectively as Humic Fulvic Acids.
2. One or many different Humic and Fulvic Acids?
When a retailer or grower buys a Humic Fulvic Acid product, they are in fact buying a combination of 10’s or 100’s of different Humic and Fulvic Acids and not a singular Humic Acid or singular Fulvic Acid. When a manufacturer extracts Humic and Fulvic Acids from a raw material, such as Leonardite, the extraction contains a mixture of 1000’s of different individual types of Humic and Fulvic Acids. Within this mixture, each individual Humic Fulvic Acid has a slightly different chemical formula from the other and also a different effect on root and plant growth.
However, using conventional tests, it is difficult to separate or identify each different Humic and Fulvic Acid. What is inside the bottle is a combination of all the different individual Humic and Fulvic Acid types mixed together in one product, whereas the Humic Fulvic Acid content on the label will only reflect the total quantity.
3. The amount of Humic and Fulvic Acids in the bottle?
Nitrogen is tested, quantified and declared the same way in most countries around the world. However, when we talk about Humic Fulvic Acids, there are as many different tests for determining Humic Fulvic Acid content as there are days in the week, and each country often seems to have a different way of regulating Humic Fulvic Acids!
For example, some countries require the same standardised test be used on all Humic Fulvic Acid products, which gives some degree of cross comparison capability. However, in contrast, other countries allow different Humic and Fulvic Acids tests to be used on products that will be eventually be sold side by side.
The different Humic and Fulvic Acid tests will give different results, although they might be measuring the same thing! Differences of more than 20% are not uncommon between different testing methods and thus, there is often no way for retailers and growers to compare one product with the other, even by reading the label!
4. Manipulation of Humic and Fulvic Acid tests
All testing methods have both strengths and weaknesses and for the various Humic and Fulvic Acid tests it is no different.
One weakness that many of the tests suffer from is that if the raw material that contains Humic Fulvic Acids is micronised to a very fine size, and then added to the product, the aggressive nature of the Humic Fulvic Acids tests will detect the unextracted Humic and Fulvic Acids in the raw material, even though these may not be available for 10´s or 100´s of years.
In most cases the grower is usually paying for Humic Fulvic Acids that are readily plant / soil available and this is what should be inside the bottle… but this is not always the case.
5. Use of inconsistent language and exaggerated claims
This is responsibility of both manufacturers and governments around the world. It is common to see words such as potassium humate, humates, humus, compost, organic matter, humic dust, manure etc., – all of which mean different things – used interchangeably when talking about Humic Fulvic Acids.
High quality Humic Fulvic Acids are fantastic for improving the Physical, Chemical and Biological properties of soil, while Fulvic Acids, in particular, can have an effect on crops when applied as a foliar product. However, it is not uncommon to see exaggerated claims in marketing materials as to what a Humic Fulvic Acid product can achieve. Humic Fulvic Acids are undoubtedly fantastic products, but every product has limitations.
6. Where do Humic and Fulvic Acids originate?
It may be difficult to believe, but even today the exact natural origin of Humic and Fulvic Acids in soil is not fully understood by scientists. Humic and Fulvic Acids are somehow derived from decaying plant residues, although the exact production pathway remains unclear. They can be extracted from various sources such as coal type materials, peat, worm castings, composts and soil.
Each of these sources of Humic Fulvic Acids produces a different combination of individual Humic and Fulvic Acids. As a result, it is not correct to compare a Humic Fulvic Acid product derived from, for example, American Leonardite with one from peat or worm castings, as the quantity of Humic Fulvic Acids gives no indication as to the chemical type or quality of each product.
In most cases, legislation will demand that total Humic and Fulvic Acids are declared on the label. However, the source, quality, strengths, weaknesses, and field performance of the unrelated Humic Fulvic Acid products may be very different and affect the end result that growers obtain from their investment in these types of product..
7. Lack of consistent tests to measure the quality of Humic Acids:
Globally, almost all government testing and registration protocols focus on quantitative Humic Acids tests to determine “how much” Humic Fulvic Acids are in the bottle, rather than utilising qualitative tests that measure and focus on “the quality” of the product in the bottle.
As a consequence, it is natural for both retailers and growers to be confused particularly when looking at crop results. Applying a small quantity of high quality Humic Fulvic Acids can give very good crop results, while applying much higher volumes of a low quality Humic Fulvic Acid product will not give the same effect.
AgroPages new issue 2020 Biologicals Special available for free download.
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