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Small farm biochar


We are on 7 hectares in Pukekohe, just south of Auckland, New Zealand. The property is a former kiwifruit orchard with a small woodlot in a gully at the rear of the property. Soils are highly productive and much of the area is devoted to vegetable production, especially potato, onion and brassicas.

We have planted a trial orchard of 50 avocado trees, variety Hass with Bacon pollinators. Because the soil bulk density is 1.0 and Avocados prefer lighter soil, we have used biochar to try and ‘lighten’ the soil and to improve drainage and biological activity. First the orchard was ploughed and then graded into berms, just off contour for drainage. A cover crop was grown until compost, gypsum and biochar were added to the soil and rotary hoed in. Satellite photos taken the day we rotary hoed the soil prior to planting show how dark the soil is now compared to our neighbours.

Just after planting showing partially rotted wood mulch used
Soil after incorporation of biochar, gypsum and compost

Trees were planted March 2018 and the soil mulched using rotted wood mulch from an arborist. They suffered in cold wet conditions for winter 2018 and some were grazed by escaped cattle, but the trees are now growing strongly as of Feb 2019. A few have their first fruit, but these have been taken off. We have begun to inter-plant with Tamarillo to fill the gaps until the avos get bigger and about half of the trial planting have done well, quarter have died and quarter are struggling. I put this down to weeds as they weren’t weeded when we were away for 6 weeks.

Ducks with biochar in pond and on the ground

We continue to make biochar using an old bath. Timber that is too small or rotten for fire wood or otherwise useless gets used. Mostly it comes from thinning the woodlot and sawmill waste. The main criteria for me is it has to give a decent volume of char and not require much work to do it.

Almost done. Will be quenched by filling the bath with water.

I get a bathtub full of char each time which goes into the chicken house. After a few months of adding char every few weeks, we shovel it out and either compost it or rotary hoe it into garden beds. We don’t plant directly into those beds for a while.

It is burning the enamel off the bath now after a few burns but is a handy size, easy to quench and more tolerant of wet wood etc. I have soaked the char in duck pond water as well which gets it going biologically. I have pretty much given up on the TLUD. Too much time cutting up timber to fit and I always forget it and return to a pile of ash.

Press Release – BNNZ IGM

The following press release will be circulated this week to various media publications in NZ. Your help with its circulation and dissemination would be appreciated.

PUTTING CARBON BACK INTO SOIL

In a world having too much carbon in the atmosphere and obsessed about expensive and dangerous technologies for it’s removal, it is comforting to know that a form of charcoal has now been accepted by the IPCC as a useful tool in the fight against climate change.

Biochar is charcoal which can be used to lift productivity in agriculture and as a long-lived carbon store in soils. It can be used to enhance water quality and as a bioremediation tool for contaminated soils. The production of biochar can also deliver secondary bioenergy benefits and deal with many types of ‘liability’ biomass. Biochar has attracted worldwide attention as a Negative Emissions Technology (NET) in the latest IPCC report, presented at COP24. Biochar has been identified as having positive impacts on 12 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

A growing number of New Zealand farmers are becoming interested in making and using Biochar, leading to a new organisation is being formed, Biochar Network New Zealand (BNNZ), which will have its Inaugural General Meeting in Pukekohe on 14 February.

BNNZ is planning to promote and support activities that provide widespread awareness, understanding and acceptance of Biochar in New Zealand, leading to a diverse range of production and application scenarios for the benefit of New Zealand’s agriculture, industry and environment.

The BNNZ IGM will take place at 10am on 14 February 2019 at the Reid Anderson Lounge, 18 Wesley Road, Pukekohe.

If you wish to attend, or participate via remote access, please email your request to: BNNZ@soilcarbon.org.nz

For more information about biochar please see:
http://soilcarbon.org.nz/biochar-what-is-it-and-why-does-it-matter/

BNNZ mission statement

Plans for the Inaugural General Meeting of Biochar Network New Zealand are progressing. The IGM will take place on 14 February 2019 in Pukekohe. Live streaming technology will be used to allow folk from around the country to attend the meeting remotely. All attendees (physical or remote) will be required to preregister so that we can adequately cater for numbers.

A press release is being prepared and, as part of this, a ‘BNNZ Mission Statement’ may be helpful. Your comments or alternative text on the draft below would be appreciated…

BNNZ: promote and support activities leading to widespread awareness, understanding and acceptance of biochar in New Zealand, leading to a diverse range of production and application scenarios for the benefit of New Zealand’s agriculture, industry and environment.

NZ links in China research

Insight into the effects of biochar on manure composting: Evidence supporting the relationship between N2O emission and denitrifying community(Article)

  • aInstitute of Environmental Science and Technology, Zhejiang University, 866 Yuhangtang Road, Hangzhou 310058, China
  • bCallaghan Innovation Research Ltd, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, 8140, New Zealand
  • cSchool of Environmental and Resource Sciences, Zhejiang A and F University, Lin’an, Hangzhou 311300, China

Abstract

Although nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from composting contribute to the accelerated greenhouse effect, it is difficult to implement practical methods to mitigate these emissions. In this study, the effects of biochar amendment during pig manure composting were investigated to evaluate the inter-relationships between N2O emission and the abundance of denitrifying bacteria. Analytical results from two pilot composting treatments with (PWSB, pig manure + wood chips + sawdust + biochar) or without (PWS, pig manure + wood chips + sawdust) biochar (3% w/w) demonstrated that biochar amendment not only lowered NO2 -N concentrations but also lowered the total N2O emissions from pig manure composting, especially during the later stages. Quantification of functional genes involved in denitrification and Spearman rank correlations matrix revealed that the N2O emission rates correlated with the abundance of nosZ, nirK, and nirS genes. Biochar-amended pig manure had a higher pH and a lower moisture content. Biochar amendment altered the abundance of denitrifying bacteria significantly; less N2O-producing and more N2O-consuming bacteria were present in the PWSB, and this significantly lowered N2O emissions in the maturation phase. Together, the results demonstrate that biochar amendment could be a novel greenhouse gas mitigation strategy during pig manure composting.

Peter Winsley on climate change

A thoughtful new essay on climate change… and a mention on biochar.

Peter has a long history with biochar in NZ, dating back (at least) to the his 2007 paper ‘Biochar and bio-energy production for climate change mitigation‘ when he was with MAF. This paper is still quoted extensively in other research papers and is listed in the wikipedia references on biochar.

I’m no expert on the history of biochar interest in NZ, but I believe Peter was involved with early govt work that led to initial investment in NZBRC.

Metal-enriched biochar for P-leaching

NZ connections to this study on P leaching. Check out older posts with the P tag… http://soilcarbon.org.nz/tag/phosphorus/

  1. Water Quality Management Group, Dept. of Soil and Environment Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences Uppsala Sweden
  2. Plant Nutrition and Soil Fertility Group, Dept. of Soil and Environment Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences Uppsala Sweden
  3. Department of Molecular Sciences Swedish Univ. of Agricultural Sciences Uppsala Sweden
  4. Department of Soil and Physical Sciences, Lincoln University, Lincoln, New Zealand

Conclusions

“The findings of this study indicate that P leached from organic arable soils can be greater than from mineral soils, and therefore, these organic soils require further investigation into reducing their P losses. Metal-enriched biochar, applied as an adsorptive layer below the topsoil, has the potential to reduce P losses from medium- to high-P organic soils but appear to be less useful in mineral soils.”

NZBRC: new publication

Investigating the Influence of Biochar Particle Size and Depth of Placement on Nitrous Oxide (N2O) Emissions from Simulated Urine Patches

Ainul Faizah Mahmud 1,2,*, Marta Camps-Arbestain 1 and Mike Hedley 1
1 New Zealand Biochar Research Centre, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North 4442,
New Zealand; M.Camps@massey.ac.nz (M.C.-A.); M.Hedley@massey.ac.nz (M.H.)
2 Department of Land Management, Faculty of Agriculture, Universiti Putra Malaysia, 43400 UPM Serdang, Selangor, Malaysia
* Correspondence: A.F.Mahmud@massey.ac.nz or ainul_jpth@yahoo.com
Received: 30 September 2018; Accepted: 1 November 2018; Published: 7 November 2018 


Abstract:

The use of biochar reduces nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions from soils under specific conditions yet the mechanisms through which interactions occur are not fully understood. The objectives of this glasshouse study were to investigate the effect of (i) biochar particle size, and (ii) the impact of soil inversion—through simulated mouldboard ploughing—on N2O emissions from soils to which cattle urine was applied. Pine biochar (550 C) with two different particle sizes (<2 mm and >4 mm) was mixed either into the top soil layer at the original 0–10 cm depth in the soil column or at 10–20 cm depth by inverting the top soil to simulate ploughing. Nitrous oxide emissions were monitored for every two to three days, up to seven weeks during the summer trial and measurements were repeated during the autumn trial. We found that the use of large particle size biochar in the inverted soil had significant impact on increasing the cumulative N2O emissions in autumn trial, possibly through changes in the water hydraulic conductivity of the soil column and increased water retention at the boundary between soil layers. This study thus highlights the importance of the role of biochar particle size and the method of biochar placement on soil physical properties and the implications of these on N2O emissions.

Biochar expert from Norway visiting NZ

Dr Pia Piroschka Otte is visiting NZ (again) and will be based in Otago University for about one month from 22 November. She has kindly provided a copy of a new research publication which can be shared upon request…

Abstract

“Biochar is charcoal produced from feedstock under pyrolysis. It has gained interests among researchers in recent years because of its agronomic and environmental benefits. It is considered to increase soil fertility and crop productivity, and biochar might play an important role as a climate mitigation tool that is able to capture carbon in the soil. However, although research has focused on the chemical, biological, and technical aspects of biochar, we seem to be far away from the implementation of a functioning biochar system. One key aspect needed for the actual use of biochar technologies is increased awareness and emphasis on the social and organizational aspects of its implementation. As there are no functional markets for the services and products needed to ‘produce’ a biochar system, political and market devices are needed. This paper contributes to this debate by introducing a socio-technical framework that investigates the implementation of different biochar technologies in Norway. Based on this socio-technical system framework, we discuss necessary components of a sustainable biochar socio-technical system, and we outline variations of this system based on different levels of biochar production scaling.”

ANZBC18 conference proceedings

A 132 page PDF of the conference proceedings can be downloaded from this link.

Executive Summary

“This report contains the presentations from speakers at the Australia and New Zealand Biochar Conference 2018. The ANZBC18 working group report this is the best conference program to date, with a mix of international and national keynote speakers, presenters and poster presenters. It aims to facilitate understanding of what makes a biochar business model viable economically, environmentally and socially. Conference delegates heard a variety of speakers from Genxing Pan who gave an overview of biochar in China to Professor Stephen Joseph, UNSW reporting on ‘Biochar A Report on World Wide Commercialisation, Product Development and recent Research Findings’. Other keynote speakers included:

  • Doug Pow, Powbrook – Productivity gains from biologically active soil initiated through biocharactivated compost in an avocado orchard
  • Professor Nanthi Bolan, Newcastle University – Biochar-nutrient interactions in soil in relation to agricultural production and environmental protection
  • Dr Lukas van Zwieten, NSW DPI – Overview of 2017/18 Biochar Research
  • Peter Burgess & Ian Stanley, Rainbow Bee Eater – An update from Rainbow Bee Eater on the application of their ECHO2 technology by Holla Fresh and Van Schaik’s BioGro in South Australia.
  • Lotta Ek, Stockholm Biochar Project – Waste Management for Climate Positive Energy Production and Indestructible Urban Soils
  • Mike McGuire and Scott Morgan, Governor’s Office of California – The opportunities for Biochar and how do we unlock the value?
  • Jennifer Lauber Patterson, Frontier Impact Group & Everett Hale, Reep Development LLC U.S. – The opportunity to develop renewable fuels, biochar and wood vinegar from waste streams
  • Professor Tim McAllister, Agriculture & Agrifood Canada – Potential applications of Biochar from mouth to manure in ruminant production
  • Dr Annette Cowie, NSW DPI – Opportunities for biochar as a solution to environmental challenges.

This event was designed for growers, farmers, foresters, policy makers, biochar producers, industry professionals and entrepreneurs. Students and interested citizens also benefited from this event and the availability of these proceedings.”

TV1 news report on biochar activity in Otago

Dennis Enright reported on some of the background to this project in the first biochar workshop report in August (here). Its great to see some main-stream media coverage in NZ. Click on the image for a link to short TV1 news report…

“A central Otago winery is pioneering a new waste reduction technology.

The project reuses old vines by breaking them down to a unique form of charcoal, which can be used instead of fertiliser.

These blocks are called biochar, an ancient technology once used by Amazonian Indians to enhance their soil.

Now its been adopted by the wine industry for sustainable wine-growing, acting as a fertiliser while also reducing carbon emissions.

“Some of the areas that we’re adding to have been mined from the gold miners in the late 1800’s, so those soils are pretty bare. If we can add a lot of nutrients into the soil and a lot of moisture into the soil, the vines are going to do better and it’s going to be better for the soil as well,” says James Dicey from Mt Difficulty Wines.

The old vines and other organic waste are burned in a specially made oven for 5 hours, while the temperature and air intake is carefully monitored. This is then cooled down and becomes biochar.

“Once the Biochar’s ready it’s mixed with this compost produced from the vineyards grape waste…then the mixture is spread onto the vines,” says Jess Cartwright from Bannockburn.

Mount Difficulty is leading this technology that’s helping our environment, and has just spent $50,000 on the project.

“We have to lead the way as farmers, we have to show that we are responsible for our environment, that we really do care for our environment,” says Mr Dicey.”