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Biochar Study

 
pollinator
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Thoughts?

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170425131407.htm
 
pollinator
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They didn't actually do a study. They simple did a summary.
The summary was that most of the 500 experiments conducted by artificial fertilizer companies in temperate regions showed no improvements, but the 500 experiments done in tropical environments done by local universities showed that it does in fact help in a huge way.

farmers add nutrients through fertilizers, there isn't much room for biochar to increase yield.



That quote from the article seems to show that the temperate farmers are using artificial fertilizers, thus short-circuiting the natural process that biochar facilitates, but in the tropics the farmers aren't using the expensive artificial fertilizers.

Below is the full link to the actual meta-study/summary. As seen in the quote below taken from it, they claim that it actually hurts the farms.
https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa67bd

We found biochar amendment to soils in temperate regions to significantly decrease crop yield, averaging approximately −3%


 
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It's actually a thoughtful approach, rather than a hatchet job.

The authors correctly raise questions as to gaps in our understanding regarding the mechanisms involved, and what further research is needed to evaluate biochar meaningfully.

Some of what they say matches my experience, regarding the initial fertilizing effect of unwashed char and issues of raising pH too much in temperate soils. I'm sitting on the western sedimentary basin, and the limestone base means that our pH tends to run high.
 
S Bengi
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It is very interesting to find out what they classify as tropical just so that they can make a blanket statement/summary that it doesn't work for USA (temperate regions). This is what they have excluded from temperate USA: NC, SC, GA, FL, TN, AL, MS, AR, LA, OK, TX, NM, AZ and southern California.

climatic zones: ≤35th degree latitude including the tropics and subtropic (hereafter called 'tropics')


https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/aa67bd

Yes the fact that they did not charge the biochar with soil life and nutrients in these temperate regions, when they were suppose to if they wanted an experiment that didn't fail, seems like it was setup for failure from the beginning.

Also it would seem that the farmers where still pouring copious amounts herbicide, fungicide, pesticide, fertilizer and plant growth hormone, onto their farms and then stated that the biochar did not help. It is no surprise that the soil life explosion was underwhelming and biochar didn't add as much fertility. They are still killing the soil life.

 
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S Bengi wrote:.....

Yes the fact that they did not charge the biochar with soil life and nutrients in these temperate regions, when they were suppose to if they wanted an experiment that didn't fail, seems like it was setup for failure from the beginning.

Also it would seem that the farmers where still pouring copious amounts herbicide, fungicide, pesticide, fertilizer and plant growth hormone, onto their farms and then stated that the biochar did not help. It is no surprise that the soil life explosion was underwhelming and biochar didn't add as much fertility. They are still killing the soil life.



I think these are important points.  Raw charcoal when applied is known to reduce fertility for some amount of time.  Biochar (properly inoculated charcoal) does not have that effect, presumably because biochar doesn't need to charge itself from the soil fertility initially.  I would like to see the time-frame involved in the studies.  It may very well be that charcoal decreases yields for a year or two.

The point about artificial herbicides and fertilizers also rings true for me.  I know that I can take a shovel-full of dirt from my father's "traditional" garden and it is pretty much devoid of soil life.  I know you won't find a worm in it.  My father uses round-up early in the season, and fertilizer and insecticides during the growing season.  By the same token, I don't use any of those things, and a shovel-full of soil from one of my garden or my food forest will find dozens of worms and innumerable tiny soil creatures.  I have made compost both with and without charcoal, and the compost with charcoal has far, far more worms in it.  More worms of course mean more worm poop, which means more fertility.  Increased soil life means increased nutrients for my plants.

I don't disagree that on a traditional farm where the farmer ramps up NPK with artificial fertilizers, biochar may not increase crop yields.  On an organic, or morganic farm or garden, I believe, although I don't have the data to prove it, that it can and does increase fertility.  It seems self-evident to me.  Charcoal holds water and nutrients, as well as giving soil life a sheltered home.  Biochar is loaded with nutrients and water that soil life need.  That isn't proof, but it's good enough for me to continue to want to use it.  If it doesn't do anything at all except hold more carbon in the soil, that is still good enough for me.
 
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Cynical me when to the actual paper to check for mentions of funding.  For once not sure my cynicism was justified. Funding appears unsuspicious at least on the surface. Still, state university research often generally supported/funded by big Ag.

Agree with the above on the samples being less than optimal.  They should have compares what those interested in biochar consider optimal usage versus less than optimal.  This would mean something more line "organic"/no-till compared to "modern" agricultural methods.  Climate MAY be a significant factor, but I am pretty sure the choice of methods is.  Biochar probably pretty useless in hydroponics too (except maybe for filtration!)

 
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When there are too many variables, it is often ineffective to come to some commanding conclusion.  The ph level is an important construct. In most tropical rainforests, as in most rainy places, the soil is acidic.  That is true for me here too.  

Maybe what they are measuring is whether it's good in alkaline or acidic environments.  

It's also incredibly irresponsible and just lazy to purport to make a summary article about the effectiveness of biochar while ignoring one of the central markers of how it's made: to inoculate it first before placing it in the soil.

Bad science proves very little, except that they need to do their science more carefully.

John S
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