Building healthy soil for crops and livestock is the reason for farming organically. Used since ancient times, biochar is a key, natural way to build soil health. This soil amendment can help mitigate climate change via its carbon sequestration properties.
Composed of biomass heated at high temperatures without oxygen exposure, or pyrolysis, biochar is used on its own or mixed with compost. Learn more below about the basics of biochar and what it can do for organic farms.
The History of Biochar
According to the USDA, centuries ago those living in the Amazon Basin burned agricultural waste to get rid of it. The burn site area later became unusually fertile. The black, nutrient-rich soils were known as terra preta. These exceptionally productive soils were much better quality than less-fertile soils nearby. Worldwide, biochar is found naturally in areas experiencing vegetation fires.
Benefits of Biochar for Organic Farming
Biochar complements all organic farming objectives. Derived from agricultural, timber, and organic waste materials, biochar benefits vary depending upon the types of material used in its creation. Using biochar is an eco-friendly agricultural practice serving as an organic crop amendment.
Benefits of biochar for organic farming include:
- Restoring degraded soil
- Boosting nutrient uptake
- Increasing water absorption
- Encouraging stronger root systems
- Enhancing seed germination
- Increasing crop yield
- Decreasing pollutants
- Improving aeration
Biochar’s effects are permanent. It does not degrade and remains in the soil for centuries. It plays a crucial role in soil carbon sequestration, which is an integral part of regenerative agricultural practices.
Organic farming precludes the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Biochar helps suppress plant parasites such as nematodes and insects. Its use becomes part of an organic farmer’s integrative pest management program. The changes biochar promotes in soil microbiota affect the motility of plant pathogens, helping to prevent certain diseases.
For farmers establishing organic practices on degraded soils, biochar has the ability to bind to pesticides already present in the soil. That means it can potentially prevent pesticides from moving through soil and reaching groundwater.
Reducing Animal Byproduct Demand
Biochar reduces the amount of fertilizer, an animal byproduct, necessary to build soil health. When compared to the direct spreading of manure waste on soil, biochar significantly reduces carbon emissions. Keep in mind that biochar is most effective for crop nutrient enhancement when blended with manure or compost before application.
For farmers raising livestock organically, using biochar as a feed supplement can improve growth. In chickens, it can raise egg yield.
Cattle are a prime source of greenhouse gases with each bovine belching 220 pounds of methane annually. Methane is far more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to atmospheric warming. Adding biochar to the diet of ruminants reduces methane production.
Liming is necessary for acidic soils. Biochar has liming effects, allowing it to substitute for lime and providing a net carbon benefit. In some instances, using biochar rather than lime is also a cost saving.
To learn more about how to use biochar when farming organically, contact Wakefield Biochar today.