Recycling is one thing our planet does exceptionally well - nowhere is that more evident than in the creation of humus from the decay of all organic matter. Humus is an extraordinarily complex material that contains Humic and Fulvic Acids. Soil fungi and many millions of other organisms that feed on dead and decaying matter in the soil, depend on humus for food.
Humus can be produced by any decaying matter: a compost pile, a mound of wood mulch, a peat bog, or mined as leonardite, which is organic matter that has not reached the consistency of coal but is mined where seams of soft brown coal are found. These forms of humus are not created equal. A compost pile, for example, must be completely decomposed before it is humus – a rich, dark brown, crumbly soil that smells like…well, soil.
Humus is commonly found in all soils, peats, bodies of freshwater, and oceans. Its structures are microscopic but are necessary for healthy soil and plants. Approximately 60% of soil organic matter consists of humus. Although organic matter may be found in your soil, the nutrients it produces may not be readily available for plants to absorb. Nutrients such as Nitrogen require the help of active microbial communities within the soil to make it available for plants to use. Humic substances help to provide energy to those microbes, to cycle the nutrients that are present in the soil and make them available for plant uptake.
Humus also helps to build structure within the soil, increasing its ability to hold water and therefore reducing any runoff or leaching of excess nitrogen into surrounding waterways. It is the major contributing factor to keeping nutrients where they are most needed in the soil and can result in a much heartier root system which directly contributes to the overall health of the plant. A healthy plant is more resistant to pests, disease, and climate challenges.
Because soil has been degraded through decades of unsustainable farming practices, farmers are now considering ways of adding Humic Acid back to their soil, to restore the necessary balance of nutrients that leads to healthier crops and higher yields. Studies show that “Humic Acids are an excellent natural and organic way to provide plants and soil with a concentrated dose of essential nutrients, vitamins and trace elements” (1).
As not all Humic Acids are created equal, it is important for farmers to know where these substances are sourced from to make the best and most informed choice possible.
Humic Acids From Leonardite
The production of Leonardite into humic acid leaves both an open mining pit and, depending on the type of processing, a chemically treated product. This humic acid can improve the soil but at what environmental cost?
The environmental impact from mining leonardite is significant. Leonardite mines, although sometimes shallow, through the process of mining become devoid of vegetative growth. As front-end loaders dig down 20 feet to reach the leonardite deposits they leave mounds of soil and large cavities where the leonardite once was.
Large machinery and trucks also compact the soil around the area, making it much harder for vegetation to re-establish itself. Leonardite is associated with lignite, a soft brown coal that is mined as a fuel. In Eastern Europe, soft coal is mined frequently so the surface mining of leonardite turns into a large open-pit mine.
Because it is so close to the surface, leonardite becomes highly oxidized and cannot be used as a fuel. The oxidation process which makes leonardite otherwise a waste product of a coal mine has been recognized by farmers as a beneficial soil amendment. However, there is little research supporting this and even some that goes against it, showing that leonardite may have little to no effect on overall crop yields.
Humic Acids From Peat Bogs
Peat bogs are fragile ecosystems. They take thousands of years to develop, and overuse destroys not only the bog but entire wildlife habitats. Because of this, there is a common misconception that mining peat bogs is an unsustainable practice that harms the environment.
While there are unfortunately certain parts of the world that engage in peat bog mining in an unsustainable way, harvesting them for energy and fuel as opposed to humic substances and nutrients – there are other countries that have strict rules and regulations around the mining of peat bogs to ensure this is done in a sustainable manner that allows the bog to quickly regenerate and continue to thrive.
Canada, for example, is home to 25% of the world’s peat bogs, and they are heavily protected by regulating bodies. Peat in Canada is mined exclusively for humic substances and agricultural purposes – and done in a way that supports the regeneration of the bogs.
Similarly, the production process of Humic Land™ (and Kaytonik™) is environmentally sustainable and offers renewability for peat bogs. Only the peat that has decayed on the surface of the bog is extracted, leaving vegetation as intact as possible. A peat bog that is sustainably managed retains the plant cover, wildlife habitat, and characteristics necessary for future peat production.
Humic acid is one component of the humus found in peat bogs and leonardite. Humic acid gives long-term benefits to your soil. Fulvic acid is also created when peat and leonardite are processed.
Fulvic acid is highly water-soluble and has a much smaller molecular size than humic acid. Its molecules are so small they can enter the pores of a plant root, taking needed nutrients with them. Both humic and fulvic acids are needed for short-term crop growth and long-term soil fertility.
Is There A Non-chemical Method To Derive Humic Acids?
Extracting Humic Acid from Leonardite typically involves the use of strong industrial caustics or a water-acetone extraction method, resulting in a chemically altered product. These methods also incorporate alkaline extraction and excessive heating of raw materials, which can kill the microbiology in the final product. As such, the Humic Acid obtained from these methods may have little to no effect on already degraded soil. While the Humic Acid present in the final product may be beneficial to the soil, we must consider the potential harm of the extraction process and the possible long-term effects associated with that.
The extraction process of Humic Land™ from sustainable peat is different and uses no chemical inputs or heat. Through a specialized cavitation, find-grinding and fermentation process, we are left with an all-natural and water-soluble, gel-like product with a complete humic substance profile. Not only does it retain high levels of Humic and Fulvic Acid, but all the necessary microbiology to help with nutrient cycling – making the final product much more effective at building soil structure and health.
Humic Land™ not only gives the needed humus to your soil, but also maintains the integrity of the peat bog from which it is harvested.
As the agricultural industry shifts toward more sustainable practices, it is not only important to use products that bring health back to the soil, but to also ensure that the manufacturing process of those products is not causing its own harm.