For many decades, it was commonly believed that humic acids were formed in soils by the microbial conversion of plant lignins. However, an experiment to test whether these humic acids were formed prior to plant matter reaching the soil was never reported until the late 1980s (and then only as a side issue), even though humic acids were first isolated and reported in 1786. This was a serious omission, and led to a poor understanding of how the humic acid content of soils could be maintained or increased for optimum fertility. In this study, commercial sugar cane mulch and kelp extracts were extracted with alkali and analyzed for humic acid content. Humic acids in the extracts were positively identified by fluorescence spectrophotometry, and this demonstrated that humic acids are formed in senescent plant and algal matter before they reach the soil, where they are then strongly bound to the soil and are also resistant to microbial metabolism. Humic acids are removed from soils by wind and water erosion, and by water leaching, which means that they must be regularly replenished. This study shows that soils can be replenished or fortified with humic acids simply by recycling plant and algal matter, or by adding outside sources of decomposed plant or algal matter such as composts, mulch, peat, and lignite coals.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited