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Q & A : Organic Matter

Please click on a question to find out more...

I stole some Acid-Mat - What happens to it now?

When organic tissue is added to the soil, three general reactions take place:

  1. The bulk of the material undergoes enzymatic oxidation with carbon dioxide, water, energy and heat as the major products.
  2. The essential elements, nitrogen, phosphorous and sulphur are released and/or immobilized by a series of specific reactions relatively unique for each element.
  3. Compounds resistant to microbial action are formed either through modification of compounds in the original plant tissue or by microbial synthesis.

Each kind of reaction has great practical significance.

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What are the important substances in Humus?


  1. Carbohydrates, including cellulose, hemicellulose, starch, various types of sugars and pentosans
  2. Lignin substances which come from the woody skeleton of plant bodies and plant cells
  3. Proteins, rather than complex compounds.They decay resulting in the formation of amino acids which can be readily identified in the soil and which, in further decomposition, have for their end product ammonia or ammonium salts
  4. Fats and various types of waxes, oils and resins

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Acid-Mat - I want to decompose it, what do I do?

Decomposition of Organic Compounds
Organic compounds vary greatly in their rate of decomposition.They may be listed in terms of ease of decomposition as follows:

  1. Sugars, starches and simple proteins
  2. Crude proteins
  3. Hemicelluloses
  4. Cellulose
  5. Lignin’s fats, waxes, etc.

It should be remembered that all of these compounds usually begin with to decompose simultaneously when fresh plant tissue is added to a soil.The rate at which decomposition occurs, however, decreases as we move from the top to the bottom of the list.Thus, sugars and water-soluble proteins are examples of readily available energy sources for soil organisms.Lignins are a very resistant source of food, although they eventually supply much of the total energy.

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If it is good - Where can I get it?

Sources of Soil Organic Matter

The original source of the soil organic matter is plant tissue.Under natural conditions, the tops and roots of trees, shrubs, grasses, and other native plants annually supply large quantities of organic residues.A good portion of cropped plants are commonly removed from cropped soil, but one-tenth to one-third of the tops and all of the roots are left in the soil. Good compost is an excellent source. Humic acid applied has great benefit.

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My Neighbours or mine - which has more goodies in it?

Composition of Plant Residues
The carbohydrates, which range in complexity from simple sugars to the celluloses.The fats and oils are glycerides of fatty acids such as butyric, stearic, and oleic.These are associated with resins of many kinds and are somewhat more complex than most of the carbohydrates.

Lignin occurs in older plant tissue such as stems and other woody tissues.They are complex compounds, some of which may have “ring” structures.The major components of lignin’s are carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.They are very resistant to decomposition.

Of the various groups the crude proteins are among the more complicated.They contain not only carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, but also nitrogen and smaller amounts of elements as sulphur, iron and phosphorous.As a consequence, they are compounds of great significance as carriers of essential elements.Their reactions in soils are means by which these nutrients are first observed and eventually made available for plant uptake.

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Organic Matter - So What?

The decomposed organic matter influences physical and chemical properties of soils far out proportion to the small quantities present.It commonly accounts for at least half the cation exchange capacity of surface soils and is responsible perhaps more than any other single factor for the stability of soil aggregates.Furthermore, it supplies energy and bodybuilding constituents for most of the micro-organisms.

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Why Organic Matter is Important?

The greatest factor contributing to the overall fertility of soil is the Decomposed Organic Matter.
Its values are manyfold, such as:

  1. Improves soil physical (crumb) structure and macroporosity (glues soil particles together)
  2. Absorbs and retains water
  3. Increases soil nutrient holding capacity
  4. Absorbs and retains heat # Reduces loss of nutrients from soil by leaching
  5. Buffers pH fluctuation of acid soils

The rate of decomposition of organic matter and the mineralisation release of nutrients depends upon many fertility factors.Some of them nutritional, physical and microbiological.Many of these factors are inter-related and in turn the decomposed organic matter reversibly affects the original fertility factor.

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