The value of regular additions of organic matter to the soil has been recognized by growers since prehistoric times. However, the chemistry and function of the organic matter have been a subject of controversy since men began their postulating about it in the 18th century.
Until the time of Liebig, it was supposed that humus was used directly by plants, but, after Liebig had shown that plant growth depends upon inorganic compounds, many soil scientists held the view that organic matter was useful for fertility only as it was broken down with the release of its constituent nutrient elements into inorganic forms. At the present time, soil scientists hold a more holistic view and at least recognize that humus influences soil fertility through its effect on the water-holding capacity of the soil.
Also, since plants have been shown to absorb and translocate the complex organic molecules of systemic insecticides, they can no longer discredit the idea that plants may be able to absorb the soluble forms of humus; this may in fact be an essential process for the uptake of otherwise insoluble iron oxides.