Amino acids are biostimulants that provide a natural stimulus to the nitrogen cycle. Most of the biological nitrogen stored in plant tissue is locked up in the form of proteins. During the final stages of decomposition of plant matter, many strains of bacteria and fungi excrete digestive enzymes called proteases, which break down proteins into amino acids. The amino acids become a source of nitrogen and carbohydrates to the microorganisms, with beneficial side effects to the plant. For example, some amino acids are changed into vitamins and growth hormones directly on the roots of plants. Other amino acids are intermediate chelators, attaching to mineral ions and making them more soluble to the plant. Some amino acids even stimulate root cells to open specific ion channels, allowing essential minerals to be taken up by the plant thousands of times faster than simple osmosis! Although amino acids are not a primary source of nitrogen fertilizer to the plant, they are a good secondary source of nitrogen. As the microorganisms in the root zone die, amino acids eventually release their ammonium-nitrogen. The ammonium ions are either taken up directly by plants, converted to nitrates or used to feed other microorganisms. In the meantime, the bodies of the microorganisms store the nitrogen and help prevent the leaching of inorganic nitrogen into the environment.
It is my belief that it is always better to work with nature than against it. When you work with nature, there are often many unexpected positive side effects. After all, nature has been orchestrating the chemistry of life long before human beings appeared on the planet! On the other hand, when we work against nature, negative side effects often show up sooner or later. It’s all about balance. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizers are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, mineral fertilizers are taken up by plants in exactly the same form as those provided by nature, and they have an important place in the history of the human race. But in order to feed the world, we must also have a world to feed. Being good stewards of the earth requires careful management of our natural resources. If we work with nature in an intelligent and responsible manner, we can help make the world a better place for generations to come.