New methodology to assess the quantity and quality of humic substances in organic materials and commercial products for agriculture
The traditional method to determine humic content (humic and fulvic acids) in commercial fertilizers, biostimulants, and organic materials is based on the oxidation of the organic carbon contained in the basic-soluble but acid-insoluble fraction (humic acids) and the basic-acid soluble fraction (fulvic acids) of their alkaline water extracts. This methodology, merely operational, makes it impossible to distinguish if the quantified carbon corresponds to substances with "humic" chemical nature or to non-humic organic matter but with similar solubility properties to those of humic matter. The aim of this work is to develop a new methodology that not only quantifies the humic content in commercial products (and raw materials) but also assesses the humic quality of the quantified organic matter. To this end, humic and fulvic (-like) fractions have been isolated/purified from several humic and non-humic materials and characterized by means of elemental analysis and UV-visible, fluorescence, and infrared spectroscopies, and these data have been used to perform a discriminant analysis (DA). The model obtained from the DA is able to discriminate humic and fulvic fractions from apparently humic or fulvic ones and provides discriminant classification functions that have proven to successfully predict the "humic quality" of the fractions isolated from commercial products, after their elemental and spectroscopic characterization. Therefore, the combination of the fractionation, characterization, and evaluation by the DA is proposed as an effective methodology for quantifying and assessing the quality of the humic content claimed in the labels of commercial products.