Adelaide Hills Biochar Initiative


by Brian Lewis - April 27th, 2018.
Filed under: Articles.

Letter from Tom Miles, Chairman, International Biochar Initiative,
24 April 2018
Much of the discussion on these forums assumes that more biochar is better, that high concentrations of biochar must be applied to get results. But often it is more effective to use less biochar in combination with the usual diet of nutrients and organics needed for plant growth or soil restoration. Many examples have been described here in this forum if you care to listen. At USBI we are beginning to put together stories of how farmers are using biochar economically to solve problems.

The Pennsylvania potato farmer who has applied small amounts of biochar strategically each year for more than five years has seen his yields increase and the quality of his crops improve. His circumstances are not special. He sees the biochar component as worth what he pays for it.

Biochar has proven to be a valuable tool in systemic disease resistance for trees, landscaping, and in horticultural crops. It is used commercially as a component of soil and compost mixes for this purpose. In tropical areas it has the potential for helping counter diseases in coffee and cacao.

Biochar has made it possible to reduce water use and resist drought, aiding crop and plant survival. It is used commercially in orchards, vineyards, turf and landscaping for that purpose. Today I read a meta-study that claimed that there was no scientific evidence saving water with biochars. Tell that to the farmers in the US, South Africa, and China who have saved their crop or increased their yield by applying biochar and biochar enhanced products.

Biochars from biosolids, while low in carbon, have had very good results in turf and landscaping applications for plant growth and nutrient management. Carbonizing biosolids destroys compounds that are not destroyed by composting. We will see more biosolids and manure digestate carbonized and used as a soil amendment.

Biochar enhanced fertilizers and soil amendments are sold commercially by several companies in the US, UK and China. The biochar conserves fertilizer by acting as a slow release mechanism during the growing season. Organic farmers are eager adopters of biochar. That’s a $40 billion business. Greenhouse and horticultural crop farmers buy it. In China granulated biochar enhanced fertilizer is used in field crops using no-till techniques.

Ironically, farmers who are using biochar successfully are reluctant to tell others how they are using it but farmers who haven’t figured out how to get the value from biochar are quick to tell us about it. : – )

Biochar research abounds but use is still limited, partly by supply and partly by inflated costs. Current producers feel they need the high costs to offset the cost of producing limited volumes.

By world standards biochar use is not large but there are many successful and economically viable applications. The adoption of biochar follows the classic adoption curves for new agricultural techniques, especially when there can be significant opposition and limited funding.

Tom Miles
International Biochar Initiative

In response to following message from Kim Chaffee:

“Agriculture could pull carbon out of the air and into the soil–but it would mean a whole new way of thinking about how to tend the land.”

Most of you already know a lot of what you will find in this long, but highly informative and hopeful article. But I believe you will find nuggets of information that you didn’t know. I tried to copy it and paste it for those who might not be able to get past the Times’ paywall, but it was too long. Definitely worth the time to read, in my opinion.

Kim Chaffee

Refer NY Times Magazine dated 18 April 2018 entitled “Can Dirt Save The Earth?”

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