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Biochar for Farming & Agriculture

Tony Callaghan 16/07/2016

Biochar for Farming & Agriculture

2020 Update - Uses of Biochar in Farming and Agriculture

Welcome to our Sept. 2020 update on the uses of biochar in farming and agriculture. This is a rapidly developing area and many of the topics below now have their own separate article. Here we provide a short overview of each headline. Follow the links for the more in-depth blogs. 

Biochar for regenerative, sustainable agriculture (soil carbon, crop yield, SOM)
Biochar for carbon offsetting - sequester carbon in your soil, sell the offset to ANO
Biochar for anaerobic digestion cleaning Anaerobic Digestion (AD) syngas
Biochar for increasing speed and conversion rates in Anaerobic Digestion (AD)
Biochar for filtering field run-off (NVZs, watercourse and fertiliser leaching
Biochar for cattle click to jump to biochar to improve digestion, weight gain and reduce methane
Biostimulants how to use biochar to make more humic substances
Biochar - how to convert your manure to valuable biochar super compost
Biochar for chickens - how to improve digestion and reduce illness 

A comment around the rapidly growing list of biochar uses. There is a risk that biochar becomes hijacked and positioned as some kind of 'miracle compound' and 'silver bullet solution'. This is not the case. Charcoal (carbon) has been used for many applications over millennia. As wood became scarce, charcoal was replaced by activated carbon made from oil and fossil fuel. Now we are going back to learn how we make biochars from sustainable resources. As we do this, we are also rediscovering many old and some new way to use the material. But carbon (charcoal and all biochars) have always had fascinating chemical and physical properties leading to many beneficial uses.

Biochar for cattle

Here at SoilFixer, we are not veterinary or cattle experts. This information is being presented based on other teams work to help those in the UK who are interested in the topic. We are experts in making biochar and are open to help UK farmers wanting to test these ideas for themselves.

There is growing evidence that biochar helps improve cattle gut digestion which in turn increases weight gain and reduces methane released. In Germany and Austria, the addition of biochar into animal feeds is well recognised and used (see Ithaka, or Van et el, 2006, Gerlach 2014, Calvelo, Pereira 2014). We were pleased to hear about the Soil Associations' Innovative Farmers project. Richard Copley is the lead farmer feeding biochar to his 60 strong beef cattle. He recently featured on BBC Country File. (Towards the end of the episode about 40 mins). The analysis of results is ongoing and is being undertaken by Donna Uddal at Coventry University.

A comprehensive review of 121 science papers on using biochar in cattle feed has been undertaken by Hans-Peter Schmidt,corresponding author1 Nikolas Hagemann,1,2 Kathleen Draper,3 and Claudia Kammann - Follow this link

The biochar goes through the digestion into the dung, so the biochar is spread onto the fields to improve the soil and grass growth as well as locking the carbon into the soil to offset global warming.

Biochar to reduce methane in cows (meat and dairy farming)

BBC Country File featured the climate change issue related to dairy herd farming. Put politely, cows belch an awful lot of methane - a powerful greenhouse gas. One possible option not discussed was the apparent impact small amounts of biochar have on the anaerobic digestion in the cow stomach.  This Australian report highlights that more food is converted to meat/milk, and hence less carbon (methane, leftover food) is belched out.

Biochar in animal bedding

Like activated carbon, biochar ‘mops up’ (adsorbs) urine into the pores. Unlike activated carbon, biochar is also a ‘house and home’ for bacteria. Aerobic bacteria will quickly start to consume (eat) ammonia and urea (urine odours) – they are bacterial food. The biochar quickly operates as a biofilter, reducing odour for you. You get a big upside as the bedding can be then composted and the biochar becomes activated and creates a ‘super compost’ which can be added back to improve soil health and increase crop yield.

Biochar as an additive in Anaerobic Digestion

Biochar is reported to increase the amount of methane produced from a given amount of organic matter – thus increasing the economic viability of anaerobic digestion plants.

Biochar can also replace activated carbon to scrub sulphur from the SynGas created during anaerobic digestion.

Decontamination of soil / soil remediation

Biochar can adsorb many toxins (e.g. pesticides, herbicides) from soils. When the pesticides and herbicide are contaminating the soil this effect is good. But, it is recognised that if the pesticides are active on the soil surface – biochar will reduce the effect.

Biochar will also absorb heavy metal toxic elements like chromium and mercury. However once absorbed, what happens next? There is a lot of research to do. Universities and staff looking to test the heavy metal adsorption of biochar should call - we can help supply small or large quantities of biochar.

Thank you for reading biochar for farms and agriculture.

Thank you for reading about possible uses of biochar in farming and agriculture. This is one of five articles on the uses of biochar - follow the links below:

Biochar for industrial use (link)
Biochar for gardeners - some surprising uses (link)
Biochar for water and gas filtration (link)
Biochar for farming and agriculture (link)
Biochar for farming and agriculture (link)
Biochar for Gardeners - some surprising uses (link)