A third of the carbon in our atmosphere since the industrial revolution comes from plowing the world’s fields. When oxygen interacts with carbon in the soil, it produces carbon dioxide that rises into the atmosphere. A gas that traps heat from the sun within the earth’s atmosphere, carbon dioxide makes up more than three-quarters of the greenhouse gas emissions in the world. Carbon off-gassing from fields has also produced a carbon crisis in agriculture, with 50-70% of the worlds carbon in farmland soils off-gassed into the atmosphere due to tillage. Carbon, known as the building block of life, serves as the fuel source for microbial activity in soil which digests nutrients for plants in a similar fashion to human intestinal flora with food.
This microbial system also serves to distribute these nutrients into the cell tissue of plant roots. A healthy biological soil system creates the most resilient soil condition for crops to withstand climatic stress. Our global farmlands are experiencing historic lows in fertility while crops will face increased unpredictability in weather patterns. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global food production could be reduced by up to 17% by the year 2100 due to crop failures from increased weather variation and The population estimated to be 11.2 billion people.
Biochar, or charcoal, is a stable form of carbon that sequesters part of the carbon in the organic material being burned. Every pound of charcoal sequesters 2.93 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Carbon in the charcoal forms differently at different temperatures. Research tells us that higher production temperatures lead to increases in charcoal surface area, carbon stabilization rate, and moisture retention while decreasing in Cation Exchange Capacity, which equates to biochar’s ability to retain nutrients. Lower temperature biochars, below 750F, have lower carbon stabilization and moisture retention, but higher nutrient retention capabilities and immediate positive biological impact with more immediately bioavailable carbon.
In 2015, the University of Washington conducted research on ten farms growing beans and found:
▪ Biochar increased soil carbon levels between 32-33%.
▪ Biochar enhanced nutrient retention in the soil: nitrate nitrogen + 45-54%, organic N +
48-110%, inorganic phosphorous + 29%.
▪ Biochar increased nutrient density of plants: plants had an increase in Potassium, Iron,
Research shows biochar has several effects in soil including:
- Increased water infiltration and water holding capacity
- Improved soil structure, tilth and stability
- Increased cation exchange capacity (CEC)
- Increased adsorption of ammonium, nitrate, phosphate, and calcium ions
- Increased nutrient retention over ordinary organic matter
- Improved soil pH buffering and stability
- Increased soil biology and diversity
- Enhanced, denser root development
- Reduced fertilizer runoff, especially nitrogen and phosphorus
- Reduced total fertilizer requirements
- Decreased plant uptake of soil toxins
- Decreased emissions of nitrous oxide