Soil Carbon Sequestration
Teach & Test
with Research & Demonstration Plots
Lawrence, Kansas, May 2013
Growing with Biochar assists growers to make, buy, prepare, use, and test biochar in soils on their farms. Our 2013 priority is to set up research & demonstation test plots on farms in the Lawrence, Kansas foodshed (yellow box, upper right) to showcase benefits of sustainable, carbon-smart farming to growers and the public.
The second priority of Growing with Biochar is to create events and literature to spread awareness of biochar and carbon-smart farming. The project will publish various pamphlets, papers, reports, instructions, videos, and webpages. This includes a Grower Guide to Carbon-Smart Farming—practical instructions to produce and use biochar on a farm or homestead. Our special concern is to introduce and integrate carbon-smart into food production agriculture.
In the fall, Growing with Biochar will sponsor on-farm field days and open house events to show off test plots, teach about carbon-smart farming and food. Late in the fall, two 1-day training sessions will teach growers to implement carbon-smart methods with their own farm soils and crops.
“Lots of scientists are doing serious scientific research into biochar. Even at USDA, several PhD soil scientists now research biochar,” said coordinator David Yarrow. "That’s not what we’re trying to do. Our focus is outreach and education to growers to make carbon-smart, probiotic methods available and understandable to growers. We advocate and demonstrate the new methods and materials of a 21st Century agriculture.”
In November 2012, Yarrow wrote a proposal to USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) for a one-year, farmer-rancher grant. The proposal was approved in March 2013. This spring, soil samples were taken. Biochar is being spread on test plots.
Each participant farmer defines a research issue, designates a field plot and test crop. Project staff set up test plots, gather experimental data and observations by standard protocol. Test plots provide a visual demonstration for photo documentation, field days and training sessions.
Each test plot is a minimum three beds: one control with only fertilizer; second gets fertilizer plus raw, dry biochar; third test bed gets fertilizer and inoculated biochar, plus sea minerals and other probiotic treatments. More test plots can be created to test different kinds of biochar, additional amendments, or other treatments. For example, the first test plot at Hoyland Farm is testing home-made cedar tree char with horticultural charcoal from a nursery supply. And at Lulu's Garden, next to inoculated BioChar'ge plus SEA-90 is a 4th bed with PermaMatrix™, a new high-end blended product designed for hydroseeding.
Last winter, Yarrow taught participants how to make their own char in a 55-gallon TLUD, and built burners for several farms. For under $100, anyone can turn a barrel and stovepipe into a TLUD to make 20-gallon biochar batches from wood chips, brush or straw—enough for test plots.
In February, Yarrow made cedar tree biochar. “Juniperus virginiana is a pest in prairies and pastures, so we’ll test it as char and soil amendment. Cedar's rich resins and oils may yield a bonus as biofuels and microbial stimulant.”
Yarrow sees ”a wildfire of interest about biochar spreading among growers” in recent years. “In most situations, farmers have heard of it, but don’t have a clue how to start using it on their own farm,” he said. The pivotal point, for Yarrow, is that growers learn how to take raw charcoal and apply it to soil so small amounts provide maximum results.
“I demonstrate how to prepare biochar to use in soil to get optimum response. We want to document this, and teach this method to farmers,” Yarrow said.
“We know from studies in the Amazon, charcoal can take two years to become fully effective in soil. We also know specific steps to prepare raw biochar so, instead of tons per acre, just a few hundred pounds per acre will achieve optimum effects on plants. We don't just dump char in soil. We prepare it for optimum use in soil.”
Besides lack of guidance, another barrier keeping biochar out of mainstream farming is lack of supply. There is no biochar industry making large amounts—not yet. So, farmers aren’t able to purchase large quantities to use on farms.
But that is changing quickly now. In the last year, a dozen new companies announced equipment to make large volumes of biochar, and began to market their biochar. A huge variety of technologies and feedstocks are used to produce an assorment of biochars. In 2013, International Biochar Initiative (IBI) completed three years of discussions of Standards to certify biochar products and production systems. Other organization and infrastructures are ready to support stable, steady growth for this infant industry.
Fortunately for Kansas, in nearby Columbia, Missouri, Phil Blom is making biochar from oak scraps to sell to growers as "TerraChar." Phil also distributes SCD Probiotics products, including BioAg inoculant for biochar, made in nearby Kansas City. Phil invested considerable initative to build a biochar reactor to produce hundreds of tons a year. With a working prototype, Phil is learning to market biochar to Midwest growers.
First week of May, four tons of TerraChar were delivered. SARE grant farmer Tom Buller unloaded eight half-ton, cubic-yard tote bags off Phil's trailer. By late afternoon, all but one bag was sold. The SARE grant project bought two bags for test plots. Local growers are now assured an abundant source of quality char.
Beyond SARE grant on-farm test plots, a team has started a distribution business to make biochar, sea minerals and other soil products available to regional growers. Initially, they will use the name "BioCharge Kansas" to distribute biochar, sea minerals and inoculants. By the 2014 growing season, they expect to have a full line of soil products for 21st Century food production.
“We expect next year a lot more farmers will want biochar for their land. Our pilot project will produce larger quantities of char than we do now, and spread it on more farmland for the 2014 growing season.”
International Biochar Initiative
International Biochar Initiative
KAW Valley Biochar Growing with Biochar: a USDA SARE grant project www.GrowingwithBiochar.org 6/21/2013