Local firm a pioneer in stronger, healthier plants | News

By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
15 Min Read

Daniel Hilger has tilled the soil for over half a century, starting when he was old enough to carry a bucket of feed to the hogs.

And for over 30 years, the Nebraska farmer has used humic-based agricultural products on his crops, which improved soil conditions, yielding stronger plants.

“Once you have a healthy plant, the end product ends up tasting better and being healthier for people who are eating it,” said Hilger, owner of Hilger Agri/Natural Popcorn, in a 2019 podcast.

A company behind the science of improving higher crop yields with fruits and vegetables having longer shelf life and tasting better is Huma, near McQueen and Guadalupe roads, Gilbert.

Huma makes and sells an extensive product line wholesale to distributors throughout the United States and in 35 countries, including China, Israel, Italy and Mexico. The end users are farmers, such as Hilger.

Huma – founded by Dr. Jordan Smith, a plant physiologist, along with Don Organ and Delworth Stout – took root 50 years ago with the purchase of a mountain.

“They started the company based on a mine in southwest Idaho in1973,” explained son Lyndon Smith, the CEO and president of Huma, which is 80%-employee owned.

After acquiring the mountain, Sunburst Mining Co. formed in Mesa and “started mining this raw material,” Smith said. “It was a unique material and when they would apply it at 40 to 50 pounds to an acre, it would make a huge difference in agriculture.

The raw material comprised humic substances, which are naturally organic biostimulants resulting from long-decayed plant and animal matter.

“It would stimulate growth, it would increase plant vigor, it would improve soil condition – characteristics like water-holding capacity and nutrient availability to the plant and it would increase yields as well,” Smith said. “Whenever you are healthy and strong you’re not as susceptible to disease and so the same thing goes for a plant, for a crop.”

A secret technology

The secret behind Huma’s products is a proprietary blend called Micro Carbon Technology or MCT, which are concentrated tiny organic particles extracted from the humates in the Idaho mine.

Huma products with MCT allow nutrients to be delivered with extreme precision, improving a crop’s vigor, quality and yield, according to the company.

“There is no one who has the Micro Carbon Technology,” said Smith, who took over the company’s helm in November 1994. “That was developed by my dad and the founders of the company.”

Smith isn’t a scientist. The Mesa resident earned an undergraduate degree in finance and a law degree, though he says he knows more about agriculture than the law.

Continuing in that research began by the company founders is a team of scientists.

“We try to find the best humic researchers in the world and hire them,” Smith said. “That’s what we are doing because we want to know everything about humic. So we have the best.”

The senior director of research is Dr. Richard Lamar, who oversees a team of four other employees with doctorates. During a company tour, he extolled the benefits of humic substances, such as in enhancing the fine roots in plants.

“If you enhance the fine roots the plant is effectively able to exploit an increase volume of soil,” Lamar explained. “If you got two roots you can only exploit so much. If you got 10 roots you can exploit more right?

“So that’s a big thing and we are also finding that our products are enhancing photosynthetic efficiency. So we got an increased efficiency in the roots and increased ability to capture Co2 and fix it into carbon so we have more plant biomass and hopefully that relates to increases in productivity because that’s the bottom line.”

He said that farmers applying Huma products to their crops want to see that return in their investment, such as increased bushels of corn per acre.

Humic also helps with stress response in plants, according to Lamar.

“With global warming there’s a lot more stress on plants on agricultural crops these days,” he noted. “We stress them just a little bit to make them stronger.”

According to Lamar, triggering a modified stress response in plants primes them to handle stress down the road brought on by conditions such as a drought or too much rain.

“I like to tease that it’s like going to the gym and exercising,” Smith interjected. “You break down your muscles and that makes you stronger in the future.”

The company’s Idaho mine won’t run out of its key ingredient anytime soon. “In terms of the material from Idaho it’s a whole mountain and we don’t harvest very much,” Smith said. “It’s been years since we mined it.”

In fact, a pile of ordinary-looking dirt brought over from the Chandler location during the 1978 move has at least 20 years’ worth of supply of humates, according to Smith.

The company also mines humic material from a mountain in New Mexico, where it is under contract for the reserves for over 20 years. The raw material there is regularly mined and sold to manufacturers for the productions of their own humic-based products, Smith said.

Proven results

According to Smith. crops grown with Huma products save water.

“Approximately it’s 30% on the average saving on water, which is huge with Arizona ag,” he said.

Increased crop yields of between 10 and 20% also can be seen but more importantly quality is where the Huma products really shine, Smith said.

“We can enhance the shelf stability of that crop,” he said. “We’ve shown that peppers for example grown on our product can last a whole nother week on the shelf in the store and in the fridge for the consumer.

“We’ve shown that that same pepper has more magnesium, more nutrients in it than a conventional grown pepper. That makes it fun for us.”

And, “you can definitely taste the difference,” Smith said.

“It tastes sweeter. It increases what you call the Brix, a term for sugar measurement that you can do that we do all the time to demonstrate our products are working.”

Five years after the company set up in Mesa, it moved to Chandler in 1978. In 2011, it relocated to Gilbert to much larger digs on 4.5 acres, allowing for expansion.

Huma’s current roster includes 55 in Arizona, 25 in New Mexico, 14 in Mexico and six in Brazil.

The company in June celebrated its 50th anniversary and announced a name change to Huma from Bio Huma Netics. It also consolidated its six brands under the Huma brand name and unveiled a new tagline, “Humic Solutions with a Human Touch.”

But despite its patented technology, the company is still a small player in the $130-billion fertilizer industry, according to Smith, who added that Huma needed to do a better job telling its story.

He said that for several years the company was selling its products more outside the United States and now sales are divided almost evenly between domestic and foreign markets.

But he said he’s having a tough sell with Arizona farmers, who see Huma’s products as “snake oil.” Instead, they are sticking with the conventional fertilizers.

Arizona is the fourth largest vegetable grower in the country and Yuma County is one of the largest producers of winter vegetables.

“The reality is we are real,” Smith said. “We’ve been around for 50 years, so you’d think they’d wake up to, ‘oh, there must be something to that.’”

The Nebraska farmer Hilger said when he first applied Huma’s biostimulant product on his corn, he thought, “Geez whiz, that really seem like it made better corn that year.”

Hilger also visited with a number of farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who were using Huma products and the common theme was that “their plants were so much healthier and more insect resistant and they didn’t need as many of the chemicals” that he had been using.

Smith said that combining MCT with the nutrients make them “so much more efficient.”

“So, we are seeing up to 10 times more efficient and our least efficient product is a nitrogen and that is only two times more efficient,” Smith said. “But everyone in agriculture is talking about a 25%-efficiency ratio and we’re talking about a 100% efficiency ratio so that’s more efficient than conventional fertilizer.”

The product that the company sells the most is the competitor to NPK fertilizers – nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

“Our typical application is somewhere between a quart and a gallon per acre,” Smith said. “So, a very small amount – compared with conventional fertilizer that takes a ton of fertilizer per acre.”

The product is diluted with water and dispersed through a ground sprayer or drip irrigation and in many parts of the world through aerial application using a plane.

“The price is about the same with conventional as an exchange,” Smith said. “Now we are going to apply a whole lot less but in terms of cost per acre it’s about the same.”

Eye to the future

Almost a year ago, Huma purchased a 40,000-square-foot building, south of the Arizona State University campus in Tempe.

“We’re right on the railroad so we will have rail lines,” said Smith, who added that the company has been waiting six months so far for the city to sign off on its hazardous material authorization in order to occupy the building.

“Our intention is to slowly transfer over our blending and packaging to that facility from here,” he said.

The majority of the company’s packaging is done in 2.5-gallon jugs. Liquid product sent overseas are contained in 1,000-liter totes for packaging at their destinations.

The Gilbert site will be the base for product development and improvement, product quality assurance and humic research.

The company’s goal is to be the global leader in humic products and technologies, according to Smith.

“We want to provide solutions to agriculture as we know it today,” he said; “the challenges that face agriculture today. And those are over-applying chemicals, using salt-based fertilizers, and just not being environmentally friendly.

“When we combined our technology with other nutrients, we make them more available so our environmental impact is much less. It’s really a sustainable, regenerative ag.”

Smith said that Huma is a heavy player in the biostimulant movement in the United States and in Europe that’s been going on for the last couple of years.

“There’s been a shift in agriculture where farmers are striving to be more environmentally conscious,” Smith said. “They know that some of the stuff they’ve been applying is not good, particularly as the older generation is dying out.

“They’re dying from lung problem or other problems associated with the chemicals they’ve been applying for all those years. We think that this movement will have a great opportunity for the future, making things better.”

Smith is big on sustainability.

The company even purchased a label printer to cut down on waste and it recycles all its junk like cardboard and unused plastics.

“I pinch myself as a guy from Arizona,” Smith said. “This company has taken me around the world and it’s been amazing. The benefits we are seeing with our products and the effect in agriculture, making things better.”

By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor www.gilbertsunnews.com

2023-08-08 07:00:00 , www.gilbertsunnews.com – Vivrr Local Results in news of type article

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