How do humic acids form?

HumicPile Humic acids are a vital component of nature’s life cycle, and they’re instrumental in maintaining healthy plants and soil. So how do they form in the first place?

They start as life itself.

Once a plant or animal dies in nature, its molecules are available in the soil for use by other organisms. Over weeks and months, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, and other invisible consumers eat the fresh material, in either aerobic or anaerobic processes, dependent on the environment. Earthworms and insects further break down the molecules.


On a molecular level, the decaying process begins with the breakdown of carbohydrates. Simple carbon molecules are also easy for organisms to digest, such as sugars, starches, and amino acids. As the molecules break down further, they become more and more resistant to decomposition, and thus more stable. This process is often referred to as “humification,” because the stable matter that forms as a result is called humus.

What’s left at the end: Humus.

humics After long periods of time, when the decaying matter has been eaten and transformed several times, what remains is called humus. Humus is a general term that refers to highly complex, stable compounds that are resistant to further decomposition. Humus has a characteristically dark brown or black color, and it is organic, due to its high carbon content. And humus is composed of three component parts—humic acid, fulvic acid, and humin. Humic and fulvic acids are vital for healthy soil and plant life. This process of “humification” takes place throughout nature. However, even in a healthy ecosystem, humic and fulvic acids are only created in small amounts. And today’s farming methods have largely depleted these acids in the soil. So it’s often imperative to replace the humic and fulvic acid in agricultural soils from a more concentrated source.

So where do the concentrated forms of humic acid come from?

Although humic acids are typically only found in trace amounts in today's soils, there are a few sources on Earth where humic acid can be found in highly concentrated beds. These beds formed millions of years ago, when lush plant life existed next to swamps, rivers, and receding seas. When these plants died, they began to pile up at the bottom of the swamps.


Then, water and dirt began to collect on top of these beds. Over many years, physical and chemical changes took place in these bed, creating highly complex carbon based molecules. Over time, heat and pressure compressed this material further, until much of it became coal. Humic acids are found most prominently in soft coal material, often referred to as “lignite”, that has been naturally oxidized. This oxidation occurs when these rich beds are naturally uplifted and exposed to air. It is a vital step in the creation of humic acids, because oxygen stimulates the carbon molecules and makes them biologically active.

The biologically rich material is mined, most often at or near the surface level, and transformed into products with a very high humic acid content. When these rich humic acids are added to depleted soils, a natural balance is restored, and plants and soils become much healthier.

Where do Organic Element’s humic acid products come from?


All of our products derive from  New Mexico, which is regarded as the premiere source of humic acids on Earth. The formation developed during the Cretaceous period, between 75-100 million years ago. During this time, dense forests of unimaginable size and richness were prominent in modern day New Mexico, sitting along the edge of a receding sea. The remains of this incredibly rich vegetation collected between sandstone caps, and was stored for tens of millions of years, before their vast potential was unlocked and benefits humanity today.