Organic matter soil amendments have been known by farmers to be beneficial to plant growth for longer than recorded history.However, the chemistry and function of the organic matter have been a subject of controversy since humans began postulating about it in the 18th century. Until the time of Liebig, it was supposed that humus was used directly by plants, but, after Liebig showed that plant growth depends upon inorganic compounds, many soil scientists held the view that organic matter was useful for fertility only as it was broken down with the release of its constituent nutrient elements into inorganic forms. At the present time, soil scientists hold a more holistic view and at least recognize that humus influences soil fertility through its effect on the water-holding capacity of the soil. Also, since plants have been shown to absorb and translocate the complex organic molecules of systemic insecticides, they can no longer discredit the idea that plants may be able to absorb the soluble forms of humus; this may in fact be an essential process for the uptake of otherwise insoluble iron oxides.
A study on the effects of humic acid on plant growth was conducted at Ohio State University which said in part “humic acids increased plant growth” and that there were “relatively large responses at low application rates”
A 1998 study by scientists at the North Carolina State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences showed that addition of humate to soil significantly increased root mass in creeping bentgrass turf.
A 2018 study by scientists at the University of Alberta showed that humic acids can reduce prion infectivity in laboratory experiments, but that this effect may be uncertain in the environment due to minerals in the soil that buffer the effect.