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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #352899

Research Project: Managing Carbon and Nutrients in Midwestern U.S. Agroecosystems for Enhanced Soil Health and Environmental Quality

Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

Title: Can humic products substantially improve ecosystem quality and economic yield?

item Olk, Daniel - Dan
item Dinnes, Dana
item SCORESBY, JOSEPH - Minerals Technologies (MTI)
item CALLAWAY, CHAD - Ag Logic Distributers, Llc
item DARLINGTON, JERALD - Minerals Technologies (MTI)

Submitted to: Silva Balcanica
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/1/2019
Publication Date: 7/10/2019
Citation: Olk, D.C., Dinnes, D.L., Scoresby, J.R., Callaway, C.R., Darlington, J.W. 2019. Can humic products substantially improve ecosystem quality and economic yield? Silva Balcanica. 20(1):95-110.

Interpretive Summary: Humic products are liquid or solid materials that are made from young coal deposits, and they are sold for the purpose of increasing plant growth. Humic products are used by only small proportions of farmers to improve crop growth and grain yield. Here we discuss four knowledge gaps that have limited market growth of these products, and we propose actions to provide the needed information. We also summarize evidence that humic products can increase crop yields, improve soil health, and provide for other benefits to the environment. By identifying key knowledge gaps and evaluating the extent of existing knowledge on humic product benefits for agriculture and the environment, this information will guide researchers and industry in making humic industry activities and claims more knowledge-based. These results are useful to the humic product industry, to potential users of the products, and to researchers who study humic products.

Technical Abstract: Humic products have been used in cropland agriculture for several decades, but lack of widespread credibility has restricted their use to small proportions of farmers. Key knowledge gaps concern spatial and temporal variability in their field efficacy, a mechanistic explanation for plant responses to humic products, industry-wide measures for quality control of product formation and sale, and the lack of long-term field trials to evaluate soil health responses. As these gaps are closed, we believe humic products will serve multiple roles in agriculture and land management. These roles could include enhanced crop economic yield--especially in the presence of environmental stresses, improved soil health, and multiple forms of better environmental quality, including diminished flow of excessive N and P fertilizers into the atmosphere and water bodies, oil spill remediation, and heavy metal decontamination. We call for greater coupling of the basic research needed to verify these concepts with field-scale application of humic products.