New biochar study....from ATTRA


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Biochar was a popular thread on the old forum. I would encourage those looking at biochar (or any other organic material) use as a soil amendment to weigh long term benefits vs long term costs, because soil improvement is a long term management practice. Below is link to a recent study from UC Davis.....the intent is to look at effects long term.....first report is for 4 yr effect...quite interesting. If some f you are interested in this topic, then keep in conversations and information flowing!

In a new study biochar helps yields, but only in the short term.
bio char.JPG

I made some Char today from some oak pallets we are burning. Interesting article you posted. After seeing that Terra Preta video I wanted to put char over my whole farm. I'm kinda like that though, jump in pretty hard.

I have been making some with horse, rabbit manure and grass clippings to load it. Also, I grew some apple trees and chestnuts in 7 gallon pots with it last year. The apple trees did good but the chestnut not as good. I'm still testing it with different trees I'm planting to see if they do better than previous trees on the same sites.

I think one important thing with char is to load it real good. I think my next test with loading it is to mix it with shredded leaves in a salad and let it sit all summer. Plan on using it next year. I know it's not a silver bullet but fun to play with.
No biochar benefit for temperate zone crops, says new report

Scientists believe that biochar, the partially burned remains of plants, has been used as fertilizer for at least 2,000 years in the Amazon Basin. Since initial studies published several years ago promoted biochar, farmers around the world have been using it as a soil additive to increase fertility and crop yields. But a new study casts doubt on biochar's efficacy, finding that using it only improves crop growth in the tropics, with no yield benefit at all in the temperate zone.

A team of researchers from the United Kingdom, Portugal, The Netherlands, Canada and the U.S. gathered data from more than 1,000 experiments conducted around the world that measured the effect of biochar on crop yield. By using meta-analysis, an advanced statistical technique that analyzes many studies at the same time, they performed rigorous testing to determine whether the beneficial effect of adding biochar depends on geography.

That's when the surprising result emerged. Although previous studies assumed that the beneficial effects of biochar are universal, applying to soils in all climate zones, researchers proved that geography matters by assembling and analyzing this very large dataset.

"We saw a huge boost for crops grown in the tropics, but zero results for crops in the temperate zone," said Dr. Bruce Hungate, Director of the Center for Ecosystem Science and Society at Northern Arizona University and co-author on the study. "Given all the talk about the benefits of biochar, we were really surprised."

The idea of biochar was inspired by a rare type of humanmade soil found in the Amazon Basin, terra preta -- Portuguese for 'black earth', so named because the soil is rich in black carbon generated by the partially burned remains of old plants, much like charcoal. Terra preta is fertile, with favourable pH, unlike typical tropical soils, which are low fertility and acidic. Initial experiments showed that adding biochar to typical tropical soils increased crop yields, making it possible for farmers to cultivate a plot of land in these soils for more than a few years.

The new study supports that view. "It makes sense that biochar can benefit farms in low-nutrient, acidic soils such as in the tropics," explained Dr. Hungate, "But many temperate zone soils are higher in nutrients and more moderate in pH. And if, on top of that, farmers add nutrients through fertilizers, there isn't much room for biochar to increase yield."

Many other benefits have been claimed for biochar, including managing waste, storing carbon in the soil and being more environmentally friendly than adding synthetic chemicals to the soil. The new study did not evaluate these other potential benefits, and the authors note that some of them may still hold true in both temperate and tropical regions.

"There may be a potential upside to using biochar in the temperate zone, like promoting soil carbon storage to slow climate change," said Dr. Hungate, "but our analysis, summarizing more than 1,000 observations, shows that the yield benefits just aren't there. So if the goal for biochar application is boosting crop yield, stick to the tropics."

The report has been published, open access, in Environmental Research Letters.
I wonder if they looked at long or short term effects.....for scientific studies 3 yrs is normally a long one! There are no 'silver bullets' which optimize soil health in 3 years! However, there are people who set goals to optimize soil health then adopt a wide array of production practices (most commonly used methods: no-tillage, mixed specie cover crops, diverse cash crop rotation, livestock integration, manure/lime application etc) compliment and help accomplish that goal of optimizing soil health. It doesn't matter where you are now soil health matters where you want to be soil health wise 10 yrs from now.....and how wisely you chose each production practice during your journey. Pyric herbivory has a long standing history of creating some of the most fertile soils in most all temperate zones of the world. You really don't need a study to determine beneficial effects of char when there has already been studies which show in long term presence of char in highly fertile temperate soils under historic natural pyric herbivory management without inputs. One is usually better off to be more well versed in history and in modern science....takes out the marketing and product sales factors!

Toward the end of that talk is tests performed on several ag fields differing in management and the effects on soil microbial diversity. That is what soil health is about.....soil organism diversity.....does char play a role in soil health and organism diversity....certainly, like many other historic factors!
Great video. Your a big part of why I roll now and plant covers. Wish I had some livestock, guess I will use deer for now.
Well....thanks....the thought process is the first step in change and what I hope to teach!

My point is that there is no 'good' and 'bad' in all of this.....and we need to stop thinking in terms of 'good' and 'bad'.....instead turning our attention to the flow of energy through our ecosystem and how the 'cascading and cumulative' effects of our actions impact productivity/health of the ecosystem. Allen mentioned repeatedly 'cumulative and cascading effects' is worthwhile to start thinking that way as each new management step is contemplated.

A prime example.....if you are around fire ants much you will notice they build a mound out of poorly aggregated soil which forms a capped surface when rained upon to keep the nest and tunnels from flooding during the ants avoid areas with full vegetative cover and well aggregated soil which holds moisture through dry spells. I live in the 'Natural State' which through urbanization becomes less Natural each day. Urbanites model themselves after fire-ants....capping the soil surface with tars, concrete, rocks, and red clay.....the rains come, flooding occurs and some functions of infrastructure/shelter/health are compromised. Thus the cumulative/cascading effects of urbanization are increased detrimental effects of excess water movement. Urbanization should not be thought of as good or bad....instead how can it lessen the detrimental effects of excess water?

IF you are around land after a fire you will notice several things which are important to this 'bio-char movement'. The residues burn leaving ash and char due to variation in intensity of fire and variation in the degree of combustion.....understand fire carries across the land in 'variable manner'. Rains fall....much of the ash is readily solubilized and returned to soil as fertilizer.....some low density char moves with sheet water (yes erosion).....some high density char remains on soil surface.....the herbivores arrive to graze the fresh green morsels and their hooves 'massage' the remaining bio-char into the moist earth which stimulates the microbial community in the soil. This 'hoof soil massage' varies by depth according to the size of the herbivore and how much water the soil contains. The big negative of fire is that most of the organic material (carbon) which could be decayed slowly back into soil is lost to flame as CO2 burst. The big advantage of spreading biochar is that organic residues are maintained and the benefit of char had without the loss of CO2 as a burst. Neither practice, fire nor spread-char, are inherently good or bad....each tool instead has a different set of cascading and cumulative effects on the ecosystem (economics and sociality too)...and the long term- outcome as a whole (energy flow, nutrient cycling, water cycling etc) are what we should monitor while considering economics and sociality!
Blame should not be in toto to the urbanite.....considering the ruralites have taught many how to cap soil for the sake of growing food!


Makes one wonder if the sale of food plot discs has went up or down over he last several years?

Just graze and observe,

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You are too young D to have been aware of the back to earth movement that occurred in the early 70s, but you have a good grip on what the thinking was then. In reality, there are more treehuggers on here that don't realize that is indeed what they are because of the media hype. It's not a bad thing, as most, whether we know how to do it or not, are just simply trying to preserve and improve the habitat using deer management as an excuse. Urban or rural growth/urban, rural paving and building/ climate change in way of temperatures due to reflection and absorbtion of heat and cold/change in weather patterns. Good stuff as always.
Hell....I still remember Nixons public speech and watergate trial. Not a vivid but neither a forgotten era either......we r in better shape today economically than in the 70s....home mortgage rates of 15% as ex....crushing many young family dreams. No one came home from the lender in a very good a kid you remember that!

There is a book on my shelf.....The Green Revolution Delusion....which addresses the issues of our oversight of biological capital/wealth during the green movement. Lending to popularity of the 'brown revolution' today. There is a big difference in these two historic movements at the basic level.....that being natural cycles and flow!

In some way we r all extremists!

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A lot of this has to do with type of soil you are working with. I have no soil on my places that would turn out like the photo above. The ONLY place I had that was any sort of challenge to grow anything in our rocky woodland setting was the gravel driveway that we ended up moving but we had used it for over a year and had semis, dozers, tractors, and our personal vehicles mashing the ground daily! We scraped gravel off with a dozer and I went back in with a box blade and got more. WR would not take but Bermuda grass seed from the coop did and it grew in thick! I am standing in it in the following photo.


As far as tillage go's...if it rains it will grow...

Last September...


A couple days ago...


Home 10...disked during drought last August...


Couple days ago...


Not interested in selling my disk yet...

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As far as bio char go' can see the difference in growth of WR and clover where I burned a dozer pile before this small area of plot expansion. I planted the WR/clover in February and we are just now getting decent rain.


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The old Dearborne disc....suspect it will sit there until one of the kids decides the antique value will provide sufficient cash for something more useful.....I will help load it at that time....for now makes good bunny habitat, don't eat much parked and ain't needed to grow something!

Advantages of an old drill:
1) soil water preserved for when the rains don't come in time or amount
2) won't kick up more rocks to look at or cover operator/equipment in dirt
3) doesn't matter if the Bermuda is there or not (I'd prefer it were)
4) kids would much rather ride the foot-board and watch a drill operate than pick up sticks and rocks behind a disc any day (entertainment value)

Just as millions of years of soil erosion have exposed rock in OK soils.....the process of no-till and residue management can cover rocks with new soil in a mere 10 years (Reed Springs MO soils are strikingly similar to Talequha soils). Why do we always concede the hand we are dealt is the hand we must abide? Why bury a rock once only to dig it up again?....or pick a bunch today only to pick more later because our soil blew or washed away in the management years in between? Picking rocks in a rock pit never made any sense to me (other than a form of punishment for youth transgression)...growing something over rock made much more sense and is more enjoyable/rewarding! Sometimes rock picking is a necessity to build/repair something or preclude damage/repair to something else but seldom an enjoyed/needed task. Rock is a usable resource which will become soil eventually. So rock is kinda like an old sits there, decays slowly, don't eat much and most of the time best left parked!

Any soil unprotected from rain will cap...even sand....even depths and to degrees one may not readily see (why is red dirt/clay so prized for building material? pores and packs well!). The premise of soil capping via moisture action is simply universal.....without the combination of living plant/thatch/root, there is no biology to stop soil from capping because there are no bio-films to control water effects on soil particle movement. Even under the most fertile and biologically stabilized soil....there are deep soil layers which have capped and collapsed at some depth where biology struggles to fully perform...without that you don't get springs and seeps and a functional water cycle.

Think back to the fire ant analogy....think of the harvester ant who is a stone mason....the piss ant an opportunist....all similar critters yet way different home builders under the exact same living conditions! Did the fire ant migrate to SE OK because the border wall was taken down by Obama?....or did he migrate here because our past management provided a niche for him to thrive?....Trump won't send him back south either so we must observe, cope and make wiser decisions regarding that pest! Word on the street....says the screw worm is headed back north....what gives!

None of Nature's processes are irreversible nor any land feature immune from Her wrath....every creature copes a little differently with Nature....including ourselves! There in nothing wrong about uniqueness or being traditional or conventional....but many wrongs come from lack of an attempt to better understand what our eyes perceive in the Natural world under our feet regardless of our peer alignment! Enough for now we're way off course of bio-char!...or are we?

Just graze and observe,
On the rock deal I no longer pick them up...I just leave them lay because what I plant just covers them anyway...Yearly it is more like just moving them around...I never get ground that looks like that dried out mudhole you took a photo of earlier...last time I saw anything like that was at a dairy...Haven't had any crusting issues and soil health in the forest must be good because earthworm activity is phenomenal...Red soil over at Home 10 is still trying to heal from overgrazing. My side of the fence is really looking good but the areas I have not worked on are pretty sad. Did just pick up about 20 additional acres the way the fences lay so hopefully I can save that as well in what time I have left...I have tried no till over there several times (not drilled) with throw n mow and am always greatly lacking but anywhere I expose the soil it takes off like gang busters...if it rains... I have come to the conclusion that I will just keep beating the soil to death with my disk and chisel plow because I like really great looking food throughout the year out there. Only time we are lacking in food there is Late July - Early September...

Whitetail Hollow forest soil is much better than pasture I am trying to reclaim at other place...Get sun to the ground here and anything will grow. Throw N Mow works phenomenal and our entire sloped rock backyard that was torn up by heavy equipment while doing septic system/lateral lines and leaving a clay gravel behind has been completely overcome by Red and White Clover and WR...No spraying has to be done in this area and only thing I do is mow it and put more WR down in early fall. WR allopathic quality's and clover shading keeps everything at bay other than some Hickory and Oak regen.

The actual food plots on the place will grow anything I put down right through the flint gravel type soil...Radish sizes get pretty impressive and WR over there is over head high now with knee to waist deep clover all throughout...Expansion areas made this spring are coming on strong and later this summer will be put into a buckwheat/sunflower component until fall planting time when it will be going into BFO, WW, WR, and Radishes/clover...Buckwheat and BFO are new components for this year.

Best soil I have ever worked with bar none is dozed forest land with dozer piles burned and incorporated...can hardly wait to burn piles we made this past February...
The picture I posted is from a friend's farm ground in northern MO which is being brought into strawberry and vegetable production. My point is that many plotters model themselves after conventional farmers without realizing the detrimental effects tillage has on soil and the degree to which they set themselves back in terms of soil building, inherent fertility, quality forage and input needs. Over time...perennial strawberry will thicken and improve that soil....likely without the farmer ever realizing such has occurred!

The most critical layer of soil is the first two inches which contains duff/thatch and most of the soil biological activity. It is here where tillage is most disruptive. It is this layer we should protect like 'gold' in our soil biological capital account. Infrequent tillage can be used to increase the organic content of this layer in abused soil but should be minimized or 'no-tilled' once this layer has become humified and active in decay to amplify the soil building potential. C4 plants are better at soil building than C3 plants but the best system approach is to have diverse plants growing year around including both C3 and C4 species...perennials take soil building to another level but again diversity is important even within perennials. Are we really gaining anything by building that layer up over most of the year then tearing it apart in afew hours?

Over grazing plants is particularly harsh on this critical soil layer....much of the duff is removed and repeated frequent hoof return causes soil compaction....the pasture plants best suited to soil building are long gone from the abuse.....the plants which remain have weak root systems which can tolerate abused soil conditions offering no reprieve. I've dealt with many overgrazed in degraded pasture land in the last 10 years.....the most obvious and beneficial management step is to limit cow access time to pasture so that desirable forages can fully recover and begin the soil healing.....that is the part mot people are reluctant to do, even with existing cross fencing in place and the only need is to open/close gates in a timely manner. The same folks will gladly spend tens to hundreds of $$ /ac on inputs such as herbicide, litter, lime, and ripping/conditioning....which is beneficial when needed....but nothing like the boost in forage production which managed grazing affords. I have been down some long and costly roads in my lifetime with very steep learning curves and strive to help others avoid such. But it always comes down the old adage for most...."the best lessons in life are hard learned!"

The forest soil is 'rich' as you mention because the soil biological cycles have not been totally damaged. Just because it has had trees on it for a long time and protected from repeated abuse doe not mean the soil has it's optimum health potential (ie water cycle, mineral cycle and energy flow and not running full steam). However, heavy equipment traffic can disrupt important cycles like the phosphorous cycle. Not all common plot forages will thrive in such conditions as plant breeding efforts under conventional tillage management have selected plants dependent on man's inputs rather than on root associations with native soil microbes and taps into native nutrient cycles. Cereal rye, crimson clover, vetch, buckwheat, sunflower and sorghums seem to do well in native soils to improve soil health and future plot productivity. As you pointed out....once sunlight hit's the forest floor a flush of new plants occurs...many of those high quality forage for deer....most all of those capable of building healthy soil at no additional costs if one is patient.....yet our gut reaction is to replace what Nature has provided with what man says we should plant leading to frustration along the way. Take those native clearings....let native succession do what native succession does best (repair and rebuild soil).....then do your fall no-till plotting in those areas 3-5 years later and watch what happens! Some spot control of brush will be needed the first few year to keep the cycles from slowing too much.

Just graze and observe,
Another biochar ability?

Manure is a reality in raising farm animals. Manure can be a useful fertilizer, returning valued nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to the soil for plant growth. But manure has problems. Odor offensiveness, gas emissions, nutrient runoff, and possible water pollution are just a few.

Timing is also a problem. Livestock produce manure 24/7 -- even when it is impractical or unwise to move it to the field. Delivering manure to the field needs to be timed to nutrient needs, soil moisture levels, and temperature. How can farmers handle this timing issue, as well as other manure problems?

In cities, sewers and water treatment facilities deal with human waste. On farms, manure storage lagoons can hold the manure until the time is ripe. This solves the timing and delivery problem -- but what about odor and gas emissions?

In addition to the inconvenience of odor, manure can release gases connected to air pollution and climate change. Methane, nitrous oxide, ammonia, and hydrogen sulfide are examples. Scientist Brian Dougherty and colleagues researched methods to reduce these negatives while potentially adding some positives: biochar covers.

Biochar is plant matter, such as straw, woody debris, or corn stalks, that has been heated to high temperatures in a low- to no-oxygen environment. The result is a black, carbon-rich material similar to charcoal.

Dougherty says biochar is like a sponge. "Biochar provides a structure with lots of empty pore space" he says. "The outer surface may appear small but the interior surface area is absolutely massive. A few ounces of biochar can have an internal surface area the size of a football field. There is a lot of potential there for holding on to water and nutrients."

In addition to its hidden storage capacity, the surface of the biochar tends to have a chemical charge. This gives biochar the ability to attract and hold nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ions, metals, and other compounds. Biochar can also float (some types more than others). That attribute means it can trap gases at the water's surface.

Growing up on a dairy farm, Dougherty is no stranger to the challenges of manure storage. "Once I realized the properties of biochar, I thought it had good potential for a lagoon cover," he says.

Dougherty's research studied two liquid dairy manures with differing nutrient levels. It also studied two types of biochars, made at different temperatures. Biochar is somewhat fickle, showcasing different properties when created at different temperatures. He also included pails of manure with a straw cover for comparison, and au natural with no cover as his control.

The research found that the biochars picked up the most nutrients from the more concentrated manure with a higher nutrient content. "The biochar will take up whatever it can, so if there are more nutrients available the potential for nutrient uptake is greater," Dougherty says. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are nutrients with the greatest economic value on a farm, but applying them in excess of what the crop can take up can lead to nutrient loss to the watershed.

Dougherty also measured the ammonia at the top of each pail. Ammonia and sulfates are the main source of manure's odor. The cooler-crafted biochar did best here, reducing ammonia by 72-80%. It also floated better. But because it floated better and tended to repel water, it was less effective at attracting and attaching to the nutrients than the warmer-crafted biochar.

Biochar is currently more expensive to buy than straw, but Dougherty is undaunted. Biochar could have a good economic return: excess farm and forestry residue could be used to create the biochar on site. This process generates energy that could be used heat water and warm buildings during colder months. There is also potential for generating electricity, fuels, and other by-products using more sophisticated equipment. After its use in the lagoon, the biochar could be spread on fields as needed. Any excess could be sold as a high-value fertilizer product.

And biochar has great environmental benefits. "Anything you can do to prevent gases from escaping the lagoon is a good thing," Dougherty says. "Biochar applied to soils -- particularly poorer quality soils -- is very helpful. Making biochar can also help reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. A portion of the carbon dioxide that was taken in during plant growth ends up as a very stable form of carbon in the soil. The overall picture has multiple benefits."

Dougherty's research did not avoid the obvious. Would biochar or straw best improve the dairy air? Since the human nose knows, Dougherty recruited a panel of judges. The weather intervened, however, with freezing temperatures and rain affecting the odor intensity over the 12 week trial. Despite these challenges, three different biochars were shown to reduce odor from liquid dairy manure, whereas a straw cover was not effective.

"Determining the best trade-off of biochar properties will be an important next step," Dougherty says. "More research could find the right biochar production temperature, particle size, pH, and float properties. The potential is there." This portion of the research still needs to be sniffed out.

Read more about Dougherty's biochar research in Journal of Environmental Quality. Oregon State University's Agriculture Research Foundation and Agricultural Sciences Bioenergy Education Program funded this research.
Science has become good at problem solving.....not so good at problem aversion!

How simple would it be just to let the cow leave manure and urine on the ground where she ate the plants and let soil biota recycle her waste for growing new plants? No wash honey EPA dirty laundry non-sense ag!

IT isn't that simple a mobile milking parlor which would avert many animal confinement issues.....initial cost of emerging technology is often prohibitive.....logistical improvement a continual process.....additional regulations from the FDA bogging down progress.

In effect, we have taken the most simple biological process of a ruminant eating low-value forage (to man) while improving the soil and producing cash for a farm and edible product for mankind and thrown that simple biological process into a confined key-less jail cell! Food agriculture has become so hand-cuffed with regulations that the simple biological processes can no longer be freed from jail with a key...regulations remain the key-less cuffs. Confinement means consumer convenience and better ability to govt regulate.....the unintended consequences of confinement are the loss of freedom and the degradation of soil from separation from animal impact and direct animal waste! Once upon a not too long time ago....there was a man (prolly a thousand)....who milked an OLD dairy cow (10-20 yo) or two in his barn every morning......the milk fed his family dairy products....the surplus fed his neighbors family dairy products....other families traded goods they produced for milk they needed. After milking, he went to his job in town! That scenario at one time was the American Farm and the American Dream! Now the average dairy cows is 4 years old before turning into hamburger! What the hell happened?