Non-Living Plant Biostimulants: Can they benefit Your Crops? Part 1. Humic SubstancesWednesday, January 06, 2016 | Troy Buechel“Let’s give back to the rhizosphere whatever belongs to the rhizosphere.”Biostimulants are becoming increasingly important in greenhouse and outdoor crop production. Many growers currently use living plant biostimulants, such as bacteria (e.g. Bacillus), fungi (e.g. mycorrhizae) and nematodes.
However, there is a large class of non-living biostimulants which are organic compounds that are neither fertilizers nor biopesticides. Biostimulants help the plant to absorb water and nutrients more efficiently, and they can also protect the plant against pathogens. As a result, the plant will better tolerate environmental, nutritional and pathogen stresses, improving quality and yield. The use of biostimulants can be an alternative to synthetic chemicals, which can damage the natural populations of beneficial microorganisms that serve as biocontrols and produce biostimulants.”Microscopic view of a mycorrhizal root”We will discuss the use of non-living plant biostimulants in two parts.
In Part 1, we will discuss humic acids and their role in crop production. In Part 2 (next month), we will discuss the beneficial roles of vitamins, amino acids, seaweed and proteins in crop production.
Origin of Humic SubstancesIn the soil, animal and plant debris naturally break down by chemical or biological degradation. After many years, this debris is broken down into its smallest particle size and is known as humus. The color of humus can vary from dark brown to black due to the high content of organic carbon. Humus contains humic substances, such as fulvic acid, humic acid and humin, which are complex structures with high molecular weight. Humus also contains non-humic substances, such as carbohydrates, soil lipids and amino acids that have low molecular weights and are quickly degraded by soil microorganisms.Humic substances are extracted from humates which are mined from humate ore deposits of oxidized lignite (leonardite) typically found in North Dakota. Nevertheless, humates can also be found in soil water, peat, coal and ocean water. After it is obtained from the mines, it is then separated into fulvic acid, humic acid and humin.
Components of humic substances
There are two main methods used to extract these humic substances from solid materials by using solutions of sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide. Either solution removes non humic substances, leaving behind humic substances. Next, the solution pH of humic substances is adjusted with an acid to drop the pH <2. Humic acid precipitates because it is insoluble at low pH whereas the fulvic acid remains in the solution (see Table 1). This process yields a higher concentration of fulvic acids than humic acids. The humins are not soluble in water at any pH (see Table 1) and sometimes alcohol is used to extract ulmic acid from humins, which can stimulate root growth.The humic acid is then dried and typically sold in the form of prills, whereas the fulvic acids are commercially sold as liquid concentrates. Humates can also be produced as either mineral salts of humic or fulvic acids.Based on the extraction solution technique mentioned above, humates can be either sodium humates or potassium humates. The first type is more often used as animal health supplement and the second is more widely used for crop production. Humates are made up of mostly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur and phosphorus.”Table 1. Differences between humic substances.”Benefits of humates on the physical properties of mineral soil:They act as a water reservoir for the plant. Water is readily available for the plant when it needs it.Used as soil conditioner to change the structure of the soil creating macropores which retain oxygen for the roots.Improve soil drainage.Promotes soil agglomeration and minimizes erosionDue to its dark color, solarization can increase soil temperature during the day.They reduce soil cracking.Benefits of humates on the chemical properties of mineral soil:Increases CEC and soil buffering capacityImproves soil fertility by coating soil particles and retaining Fe, Cu, Zn, Mg, Mn and Ca.They promote better nutrient uptakeThey react with Fe, Cu, Zn, Mg, Mn and Ca to form chelated substances.They immobilize aluminum in acidic soilsThey prevent the leaching of nutrients due to its electrostatic attraction with the nutrientsIts charge helps to dissolve or bond trace elements.They help to stabilize nutrientsServe as a buffer for heavy metalsProvide carbon to the microorganisms, promoting microbial growth for rapid remediation of soils and waste management.Humates feed microorganisms which solublize and release phosphates.They reduce soil pH by reacting with the calcium carbonate in the soil to produce carbon dioxide.Help to degrade or stabilize substances that are toxic to plants.Reduce the risk of metal cation toxicity in the root zone.Reduces sodium in t