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Organic matter of soils, humus, humic acids and humates.

ТTerminology. Content in natural objects. Chemical structure of humic substances.

Soil includes organic and inorganic substances. The presence of organic matter in soil (ORP) is the main feature that distinguishes it from the parent rock, and the quantity and nature of ORP largely determines the direction of soil formation processes, the genetic, biochemical, chemical and physical properties of soils and their fertility.

Organic matter of soil includes the entire organic mass, including humus and undecomposed remains of plants and animal organisms. The process of ORP decomposition consists of two stages: decomposition of the original organic residues to intermediate and final products of mineralization, and synthesis of complex molecules of humic acids, amino acids and polypeptides called humification. It has been proved that the humification stage (formation of humus) affects not more than 30% of the initial mass of organic matter. The rest of it is mineralized completely to the final products (CO 2 , water, etc.), and the released nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur are consumed by the plants or (with their excess) washed out of the soil.

The term "humus" as a concept of the final result of humification exists in science for more than 200 years. However, even 100 years before the Anastasis Indians living in North America in the territory of California, Utan, Arizona and New Mexico widely used some "black material" for agriculture on sandy soils and in the production of pottery. It is no accident that the largest in the US field of leonardites (humate-bearing lignites) in the Mesa Verde quarry is located on this territory.

Humus is the product of the transformation of plant and living organisms, much more resistant to further decomposition than the original biomass.

Why does the inexorable process of decomposition of dead organic matter in the soil do not reach the end (that is, before carbon dioxide and water) and stops at a certain stage, where relatively simple decomposition products - phenols, carbohydrates and amino acids - begin to turn into much more complex compounds - humus, persisting in the soil for thousands of years? There is no answer to this question so far. But whatever hypotheses this mysterious phenomenon of nature could explain, for practice the very fact of existence of humus and its huge influence on the processes of life support of the vegetable and living world is important.

Humic (or humic) substances are high-molecular components of humus, which cause such characteristics as brown-black color, hydrophilicity, molecular flexibility and properties of polyelectolite. Many of the components of humus are heterogeneous, relatively large stable organic complexes. Humic substances are unique natural compounds. They are, according to one of the leading soil scientists of Russia, Dmitry Orlov, not a random product in the chain of organic remains, but a necessary link in the evolution of living and inanimate matter, an important factor in the sustainability of life processes. This is one of the fundamental products of nature, which participates in the maintenance of life on our planet.

Humic substances can be divided into three main fractions: humic (GM), humic acid (HA) and fulvic acid (FC). This unit is conditionally and is based on the solubility of each fraction in water adjusted for different pH levels.

The scheme for the formation of humic substances from ORP is shown in Fig. 1, and some of the main features of humic substances are presented in Table. 1.

 The general properties of the three main components of humus

Fig. 1. Scheme of formation of humic substances

Table 1. General properties of the three main components of humus

( по R.T.Pettit)



Humic acids

Fulvic acids

Molecular mass

10 000 000

100 000 – 10 000

10 000 - 1 000

Exchange capacity,

G-mol / kg


300 – 500

500 – 1000

Carbon content, g / kg




Oxygen content, g / kg




Nitrogen content, g / kg




Content of hydrogen, g / kg




The fertilizing properties (the response of plants)




Humins is a fraction of humus that is insoluble in both alkaline and acidic environments. The chemical and physical properties of humins have not been adequately studied, but it is known that the humic substances of all fractions of humic substances are most resistant to decomposition due to the high molecular weight (10,000,000 D) and relatively low content of functional groups.

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