Humates? What’s the Big Deal?


hands full of soil

This revised article comes from Larry Tombaugh (2023). So, what's the big deal about humates? Humates reconditioned the soil around Chernobyl after the nuclear reactor had a melt-down. Humates give us fulvic acid which is used to treat medical patients more effectively. Humates have a CEC (cation exchange capacity) of over 600, contains 65 micronutrients, and has both positive and negative sites. So, humates are a great soil conditioner and plant biome facilitator! Humates are a big deal!

A teaspoonful of dry humic eaten about 4 or 5 times a week will feed your gut microbes (over 8,000 bacteria and fungi strains in a healthy gut). Humates is a broad term for the carbon-based product formed after the Ice Age all around the world. Potency depends on the amounts of Humic and Fulvic acid. Russia claims about 75%, New Mexico and North Dakota 80% and Canada about 85%. Where the ore was formed determines its purity. The reason Canadian ore is superior is because it was formed from 30-foot-tall Reeds, Sedge and Peat plants (Alberta plains) in freshwater. New Mexico ore comes from a salt-water sea that had impurities because of forests. Mining the Canadian ore (RSP) means removing 40 feet of soil to get to a pretty even 8- foot deposit of humates. Canadian ore deposit is the youngest and most pure, it breaks down more readily.

Humates comes in dry humate, liquid humic acid and liquid fulvic acid. Dry humate can be bulk spread, applied in strips and metered into planter furrow through insecticide boxes. The world record dryland corn was set in Missouri in 2 consecutive years about 10 years ago by applying 400 pounds dry humate over 6 tons of chicken litter/acre. Humic gave the soil microbes the power to more quickly mineralize nutrients. Nutrients can only be used by plants in a liquid form. Humic has both positive and negative sites to process all plant nutrients. Humic ties up magnesium (Mg) in our high Mag soils and reduces compaction. It makes nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and calcium (Ca) more available. We all know N, P and K are needed by plants. Humic unlock the big molecule Ca to flocculate (loosen) the soil, reduces compaction, and creates more spaces for air and water.

Soil tests from fields treated with humic will show more available nutrients. A penetrometer will show less compaction. Farmers will see “wet holes” disappear. After tiling much of my farm in 2017, I decided to apply 100 pounds of dry humic over all the newly tiled fields to break down the clay streaks over the tile runs. I put a 100-foot test strip through a wet hole on a neighbor’s farm. I asked the neighbor in the Fall of 2018 if he had seen any yield results, and he said no. In the wet Spring of 2019, he was able to plant through that 100’ wide strip while the rest of the “wet hole” was too muddy!

Applying 12-15 pounds of small pelleted humic (RSP turf grade) through insecticide boxes is the most labor intensive, but the highest ROI. At about 40 cents per pound, a material cost of $6 has returned a 3.5-6 bushels soybeans/acre. I apply 40 pounds per acre (material cost of about $16 plus application) with P and K in strips in the Fall. Medium cost with a very good return. Bulk spreading 100 to 200+ pounds per acre alone or with P&K costs more but will pay off long-term.

Concentrated fulvic acid and 24% liquid humic are derived from the ore. Unfortunately, the extraction process sometimes uses acids that negate them from being completely organic and makes them less effective. Concentrated forms can be shipped and diluted with water at the farm. Concentrated fulvic costs about $360 per gallon, and we use a 0.5 ounce per acre application which costs about 65 cents per acre. I use diluted fulvic (using rainwater) every time I spray green. Fulvic acid is what is used in chemotherapy because its low molecular structure allows it to deliver medicine right through the tissue membranes, same process in human and plants.

Concentrated humic acid is shipped at 24% concentration. Dilution can be to 12% or 16% concentration depending on you operation and preferences. I prefer 12% because it is a simple 1:1 dilution with rain water and 800 Fahrenheit and is hard to dilute in cold conditions. I use 1 gallon per acre with all of my side-dress applications. Liquid humic provides a carbon band-aid around the N molecules to prevent degradation and evaporation. Humates including fulvic and humic acids are great assets to enhancing farm productivity.