Home » Farming Microbiology: Humification vs. Mineralization

Farming Microbiology: Humification vs. Mineralization

By Advancing Eco Agriculture


When we frame the future of agriculture in terms of Regenerative Ag, the modern farmer will increasingly be engaged in the business of farming microbiology. Successful growers will pride themselves not only in their corn or beans harvest yield, but also in the care of the soil biome beneath our feet. In this article I’ll discuss the role biology plays in building organic matter and maximizing nutrient balance and availability.

Many modern farming methods lead to highly oxidized soils; practices like tillage, use of herbicides and chemical fertilizers, and even the crop we select to grow can all contribute. Wheat, soybeans, and GMO corn promote an oxidizing microbiome, while plants like oats, sorghum, and non-GMO corn promote a reducing microbiome. When practices lead to  excessive oxidative activity, loss of unsustainable organic matter and soil depletion can occur. This, in turn, leads to stressed and dis-eased plants and also gives rise to a constant need for off-farm fertility inputs.

With years of academic research funded by chemical companies driving a focus on crop removal rates, we have been trained as if farming is an extractive process where there is a perennial need to replace the harvested nutrient reserves. Growing crops does not need to be a mining process. With careful consideration of the soil biology and a well balanced nutritional program, it is possible to grow very profitable crops WHILE rejuvenating the soil and leaving the land healthier than before.

closeup of plant growing in healthy soil

Microbes drive myriad biological functions in the soil. Humification is the slow, cool temperature process of fungal digestion of lipids and lignified crop residue resulting in stable humic substances that can not be degraded further. Long-chain carbon structures are formed during this process. It is these carbon reserves, along with the microbiology they harbor, that make soil out of dirt. We have observed a direct correlation between a farm’s soluble carbon reserves and that farm’s profitability. The microbial processes involved in humification create a reduced soil environment. We can liken this to the type of slow fermentation involved in making yogurt or sauerkraut. I would describe this as the resting, rejuvenating aspect of microbial activity.

Microbial mineralization, on the other hand, takes place in warm soils. When bacteria are given a diet of carbohydrates via root exudates or green organic materials such as incorporated cover crops, their populations will explode. Rapid mineralization happens as the bacteria cycle through generations, releasing mineral components for growing crops but almost no soil carbon is sequestered in the process. As compared to humification, the biology involved in mineralization is in active workout mode.

At AEA, we put a hard emphasis on a fall application of the Regenerative Soil Primer because it is essential to replenish the soluble carbon reserves through cold-weather soil digestion and humification. The most common timing for making the Soil Primer application is in the fall after crops are harvested. This provides the longest period of time for microbial growth and residue digestion, without setbacks from tillage, herbicides, or other disturbances, allowing for more humification to take place. This sets the stage for maximizing soil carbon reserves in preparation for the next growing season.

As the days lengthen and the sun’s rays become more direct, warmer temperatures activate bacterial mineralization. This involves the breakdown and deconstruction of those long-chain carbon structures to provide an energy source to the crop, as the reserve that biology established over the winter months is tapped. This isn’t just nitrogen and phosphorus, but a long list of nutrients, elements, and minerals that bring nutrient value to your growing operation.

Sponsor Message

AEA’s Regenerative Soil Primer, is a trio of products combined in a single application that keeps your soil teeming with biological activity.

·        Rejuvenate™ ensures a successful inoculation event, feeding microbes in all manner of conditions.

·        SeaShield™’s amino acid nitrogen supports the growth of beneficial fungal populations, which are often lacking in farmed soils, contributing greatly to the fertility cycling of a crop.

·        Spectrum™ enhances and restores beneficial soil microbe populations to augment the natural mineralization processes that occur in healthy soils. Whether you are looking to boost microbial populations, increase cover crop success, digest crop residue more rapidly, or decrease chances of overwintering disease, the Regenerative Soil Primer can help unlock the nutrients needed for crop quality and disease resistance.

Learn more at www.advancingecoag.com.