It is important to note that humus, humic acids, humates and their full soil function are as yet only somewhat understood by even the most advanced of agricultural scientists. Much is still unknown. However, what IS known is that if your soil is lacking these substances (and most soils these days are CRITICALLY lacking), all of your efforts will be much less fruitful until this issue is addressed. The below information is what I’ve gleaned from extensive reading on the issue and nearly 20 years working with the lawncare, landscaping, farming and gardening industries.

No matter what you’re growing, if your soil is lacking these substances (and MOST soils are CRITICALLY lacking), all your efforts will be MUCH less fruitful.

Organic Matter, Humus, Humic Substances, Etc.

In order to properly discuss fulvic and humic acid, we really need to back up a few steps in the decomposition chain. First, we should focus on “organic matter” itself, which is really just simply the dead plant and animal material that can be found within the soil.

Dead roots, plant stems, leaves and even animal and insect carcasses all end up in the soil at some point. However, until they are broken down, they are of little use to a plant. These are broken down by soil macro and micro-organisms such as earthworms, bacteria and the like into what is generally called humus. Healthy soil should be, literally, teaming with these organisms and, in turn, infused with beneficial soil humus.

The various components of soil humus (which is heterogeneous in nature) are referred to, collectively, as humic substances, and primarily consist of humin, humic acids and fulvic acids. Once created through natural soil processes, humic substances remain in the soil for a LONG time, potentially hundreds of years, so long as natural farming processes are used that do not destroy the natural balance of the soil system.

Why is Soil Humus So Important?

The truth is, there are actually few ways in which soil humus is NOT important. Just about every critical soil and plant growth function is affected by soil humus. It is, quite literally, the fuel that makes the whole system work.

Countless soil microbes of various types perform numerous functions within the soil that are critical for plant nutrient assimilation, and, humus is the fuel that keeps them all going. Without organic matter and soil humus, microbial activity ceases. On the flip-side, kill off the soil microbes and earthworms and the organic matter within the soil is never converted to humus to begin with.

Actinomyces feed off of soil humus and produce natural antibiotics that the plant takes up to ward off disease. These antibiotics also balance the microbial ecology on and around the root surface.

Fungi such as micorrhizae feed off of the humus and assist in plant uptake of water and trace elements. Still others break down crop residues and vegetative matter, which makes previously “bound” nutrients available to other micro-organisms in the soil.

The “Holy Grail” for Drought Protection

Humic substances have a unique ability to retain large quantities of water, up to seven times their own volume, and they will hold that water until it is extracted by a plant, thus protecting plants against drought stress. In fact, farmers who encourage humus production in their soils generally find they are producing crops even as other chemically fertilized plots are reduced to dust.

Moreover, soil that is saturated with these humic substances is structured and aerated in such a way that water penetrates the soil profile very readily, so that any rainfall received is sent directly into the root zone of the plant and held tight by soil humus until needed.

Deep Tilling Unnecessary – Even Undesirable

When soil humus is present in sufficient quantity, soil structure is so well aerated and friable that tilling is really unnecessary, for the most part. In fact, it may even be undesirable, as it simply disrupts the perfectly constructed soil structure that is already in place.

Your Own “Volunteer” Hazmat Team

Soil humus is also beneficial for correcting soil toxicity and pH issues. The microbes that are present in soil that is saturated with humus are very effective at decomposing the various chemical toxins that have been so heavily sprayed for so many years. Moreover, in the cases where this decomp process is not “complete”, what’s left is often “bound” to soil humus, stabilizing and inactivating it so that it cannot negatively effect the soil ecology or the plant.

In fact, this process is so efficient and effective that many bioremediation companies use humate based compounds as a large part of their cleanup program for toxic waste sites.

pH issues are also naturally addressed by encouraging soil humus development. Testing has shown that whether pH begins high or low, increases in soil humus cause a balancing of pH to a more neutral state and maintain that neutral pH more effectively than low humus soils, meaning no need for constant pH adjustment applications.

Greater N-P-K Soil Retention & Plant Assimilation

Humic substances have been shown to hold these major plant nutrients in a molecular form which makes them less soluble in water. Therefore, much less leaching occurs and these nutrients remain available in the soil structure when plants need them. Moreover, plant uptake of these macro-nutrients is much more efficient, meaning much less total fertilizer is necessary to do the job.

Application of liquid humic acid or fulvic acid suspensions has shown increased Calcium and Magnesium uptake, both of which are crucial to many plant growth processes.

How Do Humic and Fulvic Acid Figure In?

Humic and fulvic acid are the organic acid components of humus that “bind” with the minerals in the soil to create humates and they are the result of the decomposition of the humin component of soil humus. Soil bacteria eat the humin and, in the process, leave behind organic acids such as humic and fulvic acids. Fulvic acid is actually just a “further broken down” version of humic acid.

Humic and fulvic acid are the “mineral chelators”, and they are tremendously effective in that regard. The process of chelation “surrounds” the soil minerals in such a a way as to make them pass much more easily through the pores of a plant’s root system, thereby making them more “available” to the plants for critical growth processes.

Mineral Chelation for Plant Utilization

It is impossible to overstate the importance of mineral chelation (pronounced “kelashun”) when it comes to plant health and nutrition. When minerals are “chelated”, they become what are called “humates”, which are readily available mineral sources that a plant can assimilate with very little effort. Humates within your soil are some of the primary building blocks of good nutrition for a plant, having importance far outweighing that of nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium.

This is actually one reason that many fields that have been chemically fertilized for years suddenly stop producing. Microbial activity has ceased and the humates within the soil have been completely depleted, leaving no available mineral source for the plants to tap into. Macro nutrients can no longer support growth because the minerals/humates needed as a foundation for that growth are no longer available.

Mineral Chelation Prevents Leaching from the Soil

While awaiting uptake by plant root systems, the chelated minerals are actually “bound” within the humus structure, preventing leaching from the soil. These humates will remain there until needed by the plant or until chemical fertilizer and/or pesticide inputs dislodge them by disrupting the soil structure and macro and micro-organism balance.

Improved Seed Germination

The application of humic or fulvic acid to seeds has been shown to provide significant increased in seed germination and early root development. There is a “too much” level, beyond which seed germination rates can actually be hampered, but this would never happen with “soil generated” organic acids and most products on the market, if used according to the labeling (including our AGGRAND fertilizer) would not cause this issue.

20 – 50% Greater Root Development

Testing has shown that plants growing in humic and fulvic acid treated soils can achieve 20 – 50% greater root volume (by weight) as compared to plants growing in non treated soil. Obviously, greater root development means a sturdier plant that is better capable of getting the moisture and nutrition it needs even under high stress and drought conditions.

Extremely Efficient Foliar “Activators”

Foliar fertilizers containing humic and fulvic acids in combination with NPK macro-nutrients have been shown to be 100 – 500% more effective than similar fertilizers applied to the soil. Therefore, the foliar action of foliar fertilizer products like our AGGRAND 4-3-3 with fulvic acid are tremendously effective in stimulating plant growth and health. In fact, enhanced carbohydrate production can be seen within 24 – 48 hours from foliar application, which is most often related to greater product quality and/or yield.

How Are Humic & Fulvic Acid Different?

The difference between humic and fulvic acids is that humic acids are not water soluble under very low pH conditions whereas fulvic acids are water soluble under all pH conditions (and, as mentioned earlier, fulvic acids are just humic acids that have been further microbially processed).

Remember how I mentioned earlier that humic acids and fulvic acids are the “products” of microbial decay of organic matter AND how I mentioned that chemical fertilizers kill off virtually all soil microbial activity? That means that chemically fertilized soils CANNOT produce more humus, humic acid, fulvic acid or humates from the organic matter left behind after a harvest.

So, from the time that you begin using chemical fertilizers on your fields, gardens or lawn, you begin the process of continually depleting these most important components of soil structure and biology. Once they are gone, the soil is completely dead and will grow virtually nothing until you re-balance this soil ecosystem.

More Differences to Note

Fulvic acids are actually about 10 times smaller than humic acids and have double the oxygen content. They are also much more chemically reactive, having an exchange capacity that is double that of humic acids.

They are especially useful within foliar fertilizer applications because they more readily chelate the minerals WITHIN the fertilizer as well as whatever minerals might be already on the leaf of the plant AND the minerals in the soil (from fertilizer that does NOT end up on the leaf).

As a result, the plant VERY quickly takes up the minerals from that fertilizer (either through the leaf or through the root system from the soil) and immediately transports those chelated minerals to metabolic sites within the plant’s cells.

Are Humic or Fulvic Acids Necessary?

Certainly, for good plant growth they are necessary. Are they necessary in your fertilizer? That question can only be answered by determining whether they are sufficiently present in your soil. And, if you’re applying a foliar fertilizer like AGGRAND, although not absolutely necessary, the addition of humic or fulvic acid (ideally fulvic) to the mix will significantly increase the short-term performance of the fertilizer as it adheres to the leaf.

So, I would contend that, they are absolutely necessary and, since most soils are so terribly depleted these days, are a necessary component of any fertilization program (foliar or otherwise), if you want to get the absolute most benefit from your efforts and expenditures. And, that is why fulvic acid is blended into the AGGRAND 4-3-3 fertilizer and why you should be very happy that it is.

The Long and Short of Humus

Even though this article was originally written to address the change in formula for the AGGRAND fertilizer (from humic acid to fulvic acid), the truth is, the more important point to take away from this is that soil humus is absolutely critical to good soil structure and plant health. Without it, everything you are doing will be less effective.

In order for soil humus to develop, chemical fertilization and pesticide applications must come to an end. Microbes and earthworms should be reintroduced to the soil. Organic matter should be turned into the soil whenever possible to allow for natural decomposition and conversion to soil humus.

If these things are done, over time, the soil will correct itself. However, the more that the soil has been stripped, the longer this process will take.

Of course, on the flip-side, the more pro-active you are in stimulating the process, the faster things will go.

AGGRAND can’t do it all, but it DOES supply fulvic acid which will help with mineral chelation and plant uptake and will assist in the process of inactivating the toxins currently present in the soil. AGGRAND fertilizer also supplies a good boost of microbes to the soil, and a readily available food source to help them quickly multiply (molasses).

Moreover, since the product is naturally derived from fish and kelp, there is organic matter in the product which will make it’s way into the soil profile to help begin the process of humus creation. Of course, in terms of raw volume, it would be helpful to this process if you were to find ways to incorporate additional organic matter to the soil, but, if that’s not feasible, the AGGRAND is at least a start in the right direction.

Lastly, the balanced nutrient profile of the fertilizer and the plant hormones within the product will help with short-term plant health, growth, fruit production and stress resistance, while the soil balances itself out.