Heavy interest in Humalite – Hanna Herald


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Author of the article: Submitted Research conducted by the University of Alberta at its research station at St. Albert studied Humalite's impact on spring wheat as pictured here. Courtesy of Malinda Thilakarathna jpg, HA While there are few certainties in farming, there are a couple things you can bank on: growers will never yearn for lower yields, and they’ll always look for ways to reduce the input costs. These facts alone could explain the rising interest in humalite, a naturally occurring substance that offers a range of benefits for farmers. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. In Alberta, humalite can be found in a large deposit located near Hanna. It’s extracted by Westmoreland Mining and is one of the most cost-effective inputs for improving soil health. Containing organic matter and high concentrations of humic acid, humalite is now drawing attention from both growers and academics, and for good reason. “In looking at our overall soil health about five years ago, we had some concerns,” said Dan Majeau, a third-generation grain and hog farmer in Sturgeon County, Alta. “There was a deterioration in pH levels and growing acidity, and we knew something had to be done.” Based on his talks with a fellow farmer, Majeau discovered humalite, and the results have been significant. “We applied 100 lbs. of humalite to our fields every year for three years,” said Majeau. “In reviewing soil samples from before and after, we saw pH levels returning to normal following humalite application and an overall improvement in soil health.” For Majeau’s crops, those benefits were just the beginning. He found that humalite helped release nutrients, improved soil aeration and increased microbial activity, which is another component of healthy soil. “Humalite accelerates crop residue breakdown and increases water retention, as it holds ten times its weight in water,” explained Majeau. “We apply it in granular and liquid form, and have seen better germination and emergence in both cases.” When it comes to distributing humalite in the field, Majeau has a few options. With the granular version, he either spin spreads it in the fall for soil remediation, or runs it through the drill at seeding time for more of a soil maintenance program. If he prefers, he can also use it in liquid form with his liquid seed starter fertilizer. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. The science of success  Given the growing popularity of humalite, it’s little wonder that scientists are studying the substance as part of their research. “Part of humalite’s appeal is that it’s natural, rather than something you bring in from the outside or genetically modify,” said Dr. Linda Gorim. Dr. Gorim is an assistant professor/Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) chair in cropping systems, Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Alberta (U of A). “We are especially fortunate in Alberta to have one of the highest valued humalite deposits in the world, as it consists of up to 70 per cent humic acid.” To help growers make the most of that value, Dr. Gorim is leading a project entitled “Applying humalite for enhancing wheat and canola production and soil health”. The WGRF is making the study possible by supporting Dr. Gorim’s position at the U of A. “Local farmers have already started buying humalite and putting it on their fields, and I’ve heard from some that say it cuts down on fertilizer use,” said Dr. Gorim. “This study will apply different humalite and fertilizer rates, looking at how humalite affects crop performance, the interaction of humalite and soil, and the optimal humalite rates per acre for growers.” The project will evaluate humalite on a variety of crops and focus on three key aspects of the substance: nutrient uptake, soil health, and water retention. Advertisement This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. “Humalite has the ability to bind nutrients in the soil, especially nitrogen, and that is critical,” said Dr. Malinda Thilakarathna, an assistant professor in plant-microbial interactions in Dr. Gorim’s department at the U of A. When farmers apply nitrogen fertilizer, the soil will only use about 50 per cent of it, and maybe less if there is excess soil moisture leading to leaching losses in the form of nitrate. “By holding the nutrients and releasing them slowly, humalite enables plants to capture more nitrogen and produce greater yields,” said Dr. Thilakarathna. Water works  In light of the devastating drought across the Prairies this year, humalite’s ability to hold moisture is also a key aspect of the study. “If we had been applying this substance to the soil in 2021, it would have helped maintain moisture and allowed plants to grow in spite of drought conditions,” said Dr. Thilakarathna. “Those crops would still have suffered drought stress, but humalite could have worked to minimize the damage.” Though scientists have yet to analyze any data, Dr. Thilakarathna observed the first trial this summer under dry conditions. He noticed that wheat plots where humalite was applied contained less stressed plants that stood much better than their counterparts in the non-humalite plots. While test results are crucial, it may be the outcomes in farmers’ fields that really tell the humalite tale. “The person who was doing crop scouting for me said the soil really changed from the addition of humalite, and there were definite benefits for the crops,” said Majeau. “I’m encouraged by other study results that are already published, and even more so by our ability to cut nitrogen use by 10 to 20 per cent. There is no one magic bullet that addresses all of our needs, so it’s about putting the right pieces together, and humalite is a big piece of the puzzle.”
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