Humates and Chemical fertilizers

Intensive agricultural systems demand the use of large quantities of mineral fertilizers in order to supply the plants with basic micro-elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.  In doing so, we often forget that mineral fertilizer is for plants what illegal drugs are for sportsmen – you can immediately see high results but tend to ignore the future consequences.  The higher the amount of mineral fertilizer used, the more intensive is the erosion of the soil, the poorer the soil’s humus content, and the environment is more polluted.

The problem of effective mineral fertilizer assimilation is central in plant-growing.  The difficulty of its solution lies in the fact that water soluble potassium and nitrogen fertilizers are easily washed out of the soil, while phosphorus fertilizers, on the contrary, bond with ions of Ca, Mg, Al, and Fe that are present in soil and form inert compounds, which are inaccessible to plants.

The presence of humic substances, however, substantially increases effective assimilation of all mineral nutrition elements.  It was shown in the tests of barley that humate treatment (with NPK) improved its growth, development, and the crop capacity while decreasing the use of mineral fertilizer. (V. Kovalenko, M. Sonko, 1973.)  The tests on wheat showed that one-way use of nitrogen fertilizers on winter wheat crops did not have a high positive effect on the crop capacity, while its use along with humates and super phosphate achieved an expected positive effect. (L. Fot, 1973.)

Interestingly, the mechanism of interaction between humates and micro-elements of mineral nutrition is specific for each of them.  The positive process of Nitrogen assimilation occurs due to an intensification of the ion-exchange processes, while the negative processes of “nitrate” formulation decelerates.  Potassium assimilation accelerates due to a selective increase in the penetrability of cell membranes.  As for phosphorus, humates bond ions of Ca, Mg, and Al first, which prevents the formation of insoluble phosphates.  That is why the increase of humate content leads to an increase of the plant’s phosphorus consumption. (Lee & Bartlett, 1973.)

Therefore, the combination of humates and mineral fertilizer guarantees their effective assimilation by plants.

Thus, the idea of combined use of humates and mineral fertilizer naturally comes to mind.  Creation of such a combined fertilizer is a new step in plant-growing development.  It was no coincidence when over ten years ago an Italian company, “ Vineta Mineraria,” published a project, ”Umex: a new technological tool at service for agriculture of 2000.”  This project was about establishing the production of humate-coated granulated nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus fertilizers.

From 1988 to 1990, in Byelorussia, the vegetation field tests and production experiences were carried out to comparatively study new humate-coated forms of mineral fertilizers, such as urea, super phosphate, and potassium chloride, produced in Italy and Russia.  The tests showed that use of humate-coated urea in the production experiences with potatoes increased the crop capacity by an average of 28-31 centner/hectare, whilst at the same time decreasing the nitrate content by 40%, in comparison with the control group (urea).

For root-crops, the crop capacity reached 200-220 centner/hectare, with an improvement in the quality of the produce. However, in spite of the impressive results, this project was not developed further, and these new preparations did not appear on the international markets.  Perhaps, the high cost of the humates, in comparison with the mineral base, was the reason, so the new type of fertilizer was not competitive.  However, with the new manufacturing technologies today, these materials can be cost-effective in modern agriculture. 

Field tests (M. Butyrin, 1996) showed that use of humate-coated urea increased the crop capacity of potatoes by 20% and that of oats  by 50%.

Other important components of plants’ nutrition are micro-elements – Fe, Cu, Zn, B, Mn, Mo, Co.  Plants use a very small amount of them, measured in one thousandth or one hundred thousandth of a percent.  Nevertheless, they are vital to plants’ development.  For instance, boron resists certain diseases and increases the amount of ovaries and vitamin content in fruit.  Manganese is vital for the photosynthesis process and the formulation of vitamin C and sugars.  Copper assists in albumen synthesis, which ensures drought and frost resistance in plants, as well as their resistance to fungal and viral infections.  Zinc is part of many vegetable ferments participating in fertilization, breathing, albumen, and carbohydrates synthesis.  Molybdenum and cobalt are important to nitrogen assimilation from the atmosphere.  Considering what was said in previous chapters, the readers might pay attention to our explanations of similar effect.

We explained it was due to humate use.  But if you consider that the humates transport micro-elements to plants most efficiently and form complexes with micro-elements that are easily assimilated by plants, the seeming contradiction is easily resolved.

Humic acids form complexes naturally.  For thousands of years, they accumulated vital elements.  When applied, humic acids also extract these vital elements from the soil in an accessible way for plants to form.  For example, iron and manganese, according to respected professor D. Orlov, are assimilated only in humic complex form.  Research by A. Karpukhin showed that the presence of these complexes determine the mobility of most macro- and micro-elements and their supply and travel inside plants’ organs.

Therefore, treating vegetating plants with humates ensures their continuous nutrition with vital macro- and micro-elements.