HortNZ biochar article

I’ve been remiss is publishing posts to ABE this month. A few reasons for this: busy with the biochar workshop tour planning; laziness… its so much easy just to flick a news story to the ubiquity of facebook and the ABE FB page (maybe this will soon change!); and the usual issue of no real NZ content being available to me. But here is a NZ focus article…

Robin Boom’s article was published in a recent edition of the HortNZ magazine: NZGrower Vol 73 No 1. Its a very well written article and kudos on HortNZ for publishing. This is a subscription magazine, available from the HortNZ website. They offer a free sample but unfortunately, the freeby is already at Vol.73 No.2. I think Robin’s article was was January 2018. Here are two links to PDF’s of his article (I’m seeking HortNZ permission, but if I don’t get, I’ll need to take the links down):

We have submitted a new article to HortNZ as part of our workshop marketing efforts. We have tried to address the issues raised by Robin at the end of his article as follows:

Robin Boom ended his excellent article on biochar (NZGrower Vol 73 No 1) by highlighting some hurdles and challenges for a budding NZ biochar industry. We address these issues as follows:

  1. Cost and availability: it is true that the biochar market in NZ is very small. There are a number of pathways to growth, depending on biomass resource, production scale and desired application. Three examples: (1) Frank Strie, a biochar entrepreneur in Tasmania is being contracted to process vine and orchard prunings into biochar onsite using his kontiki kiln designs. This is a very low cost business entry model that can easily be replicated all over NZ. There are a number of NZ producer/entrepreneurs listed on the ABE website who are trying to establish sales and supply reputation; (2) folk are making their own biochar for little more than the ‘cost’ of labour. Farmer cooperation could supply large volumes into most communities using artizan fire management practices or low cost equipment; (3) very low cost biochars are available from some locations in NZ, derived from inefficient biomass boilers. There are many more NZ scenarios that I could describe at length but this needs its own story.
  2. Transport costs: It is true that biochar in a post-production, dry state could be volatile and has low bulk density. Fresh, dry charcoals have been known for self-ignition from a cold start. The chemistry behind this is interesting but not relevant to biochar. Charcoal needs water on its path to becoming a biochar… a vital ingredient to life in the biochar. Transport costs should be addressed by local markets for production and supply of both raw and amended/specialised biochars … poorly utilised biomass is everywhere and should be converted to biochar as a common localised activity (home garden to commercial scales).
  3. Application methods: This is a interesting and exciting area of development around the world. Biochar can be modified to be the carrier of choice for nutrients and beneficial soil life. Biochar is best mixed with compost during production, reaping rewards in the compost process as well as the biochar. Bartlett in USA and UK are air-spading biochar under mature / diseased / urban trees with amazing success. In NZ, water-spading is being investigated. Existing spray systems can apply biochar as an emulsion to the under-story. There are many other biochar application ‘cascades’, providing practical environmental services on the way to the soil.

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