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The important differences between raw Leonardites
and water-soluble humic acids:

    The term humic acid represents a group of powerful natural substances that are so complex that science will not be able to replicate them for generations to come.  Because they are impossible to replicate, all humic acid products are derived from highly concentrated natural deposits.  The most common deposits are called Leonardites (forms of oxidized lignite), but humic acids can also be found in natural deposits of peat and silt.  These deposits are formed over millions of years, yet the humic acids have not broken down or leached out of the earth into the water table.  Therefore, they are extremely insoluble and inactive in their natural state. 

    In fact, the presence of insoluble humic acids can commonly be found in ordinary soil, only at much lower concentrations (0.2% to 10%) than is found in Leonardites or other natural deposits.  In 1949 at Kherson University, USSR, Lydia Khristeva was able to educe the insoluble humic acids from ordinary soil in the form of a sodium salt solution.  She then watered plants with the solution and discovered that it greatly enhanced plant growth and root development.  This discovery lead to a great deal of research with the use of humic acids in stimulating plants.  Despite the fact that this discovery utilized a soluble humic acid solution, over time a common belief emerged that applying raw Leonardites to the soil will boost the natural humic acid levels and stimulate plant growth as it did for Lydia Khristeva.

    The principle “problem” with this concept is that Leonardites (insoluble humic acids) are very low in chemical and biological activity because the valent vacancies of their molecules are occupied with metals from soil minerals and the molecules themselves are rolled up very tightly in a ball.  In order for Leonardites to provide a response to a plant, the humic and fulvic acids must be "activated" through chemical and biological processes in the soil.  Unfortunately, this process is dependent on an infinite combination of factors in the soil and this makes it nearly impossible to know if, how, or when the humic acids will ever be released.  This is the primary reason Leonardites have still failed to gain universal acceptance in agriculture 50+ years after the benefits of humic acids were first discovered! 

    Because Leonardites do closely match the structure of natural soil humus, they can slowly increase the soil organic matter over many years, which is an obvious benefit to any soil.  However, the end user must be aware of which goals they are trying to achieve when they use humic acids; are they trying to build their soil, or are they looking to immediately stimulate crops, or both.  This will help decide which materials to use.

    To effectively stimulate plants through the use of humic acids, it is necessary to convert them into forms that have very high chemical and biological activity levels.  This conversion “unrolls” the tight molecular ball and creates water-soluble humic acids, either as a liquid or in the form of sodium, potassium, or ammonium salts (known as Humates).  In their soluble form, humic acids can readily chelate nutrients, preserve nitrates from leaching, enhance root development, and improve overall crop vigor and yields.  Positive results can be obtained using soluble humates alone, or they can be used in combination with raw Leonardites to achieve both short term and long term results.

The difference between sodium, potassium, and ammonium salts of humic acid:

    There are three primary forms of humates (humic acid salts), the sodium form, the potassium form, and the ammonium form.  Although they are all similar, each form actually has its own special benefit at various stages of plant development.  However, the ammonium form is generally not used because it has a greater degree of chemical instability and it can often produce unpleasant ammonia odors.  Of the remaining two, many people favor the potassium form simply because potassium itself is a valuable component of plant nutrition.  However, because of the very high chemical and biological activity of water-soluble humic acids, the application rates are very low and the applied amount of potassium does not play a significant role in plant nutrition.  TeraVita, through years of research, has developed humic acid products with the ideal ratio of their sodium and potassium forms to promote the ideal response in soils and plants without the risk of chemical instability or odor issues.

The roles of humic acids versus fulvic acids:

    A lot of attention is often given to the role of fulvic acids over humic acids.  It is often stated that the "primary action" of humic acids comes from the fulvic acids because their chemical and biological activity is higher than the humic acids.  This theory does not properly take into account the many complex aspects involved in soil fertility (such as the formation of ferments in the soil), but relies more on the simplest message many commercial entities can give for people to use their product.  Quite simply, it is not true, and we can only guess that this opinion originates from the concept that fulvic acids are the only portion of raw Leonardite that is potentially soluble and mobile through water in the soil. 

    Fulvic and humic acids have the same source of origin and are very similar in structure and elementary content.  The main difference is that the molecular size of fulvic acid is smaller, which provides it with increased solubility in water throughout the pH range.  However, this is only relevant if you are attempting to use raw Leonardite to stimulate crops.  As mentioned before, raw Leonardites are primarily insoluble and have very low chemical and biological activity.  If a natural Leonardite deposit is very high in fulvic acid content, it would be possible to see some positive result to the crop if the application rate were high enough and there were enough free water-soluble fulvic acids to act on the plants.

    However, once raw Leonardites are converted into water-soluble humates, all of the humic and fulvic acid components are biologically active and play important roles in plant and soil stimulation.  They all work together in various stages of soil and plant development and no one component is necessarily more important than another.

Additional notes on water-soluble humic acids:

    Another benefit of using water-soluble humic acids is that their application and utilization by soil and plants can be predicted much more accurately than Leonardites.  As mentioned earlier, it is nearly impossible to predict if, how, or when the humic acids from raw Leonardites will ever be released or utilized by the plants and soil.  With soluble humates, the usage rates can be narrowed down to within small margins and the overall response to crops can be achieved with only 1/100 of the typically used rate of Leonardites.

    It is also important to note that humic acids are not a significant source of plant nutrients, but are a soil stimulant and a transportation vehicle for carrying nutrients into plants.  Once connected to the humic acid molecule, nutrients are carried into a plant in available forms that help intensify the plant’s metabolism and stimulate the soil’s natural activities.

    Because of their strong ability to chelate nutrients, humic acids greatly increase the efficiency in which plants utilize nutrients from the soil.  In turn, this enables a significant reduction in the amount of fertilizer historically required to maintain optimal plant growth.  Obviously, this provides enormous economic and ecological value to growers wishing to reduce their fertilizer input costs and/or reduce the potential side-effects of heavy fertilizer usage.

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