Biochar, Returning Carbon to the Soil…Naturally

Farmers and forest landowners are unlocking anew approach and bringing back an ancient practice that transforms farm waste into high-quality compost to improve soil health. Partners are converting animal manure and woody debris into biochar – a form of long-lasting charcoal. Biochar not only provides benefits to soil health, but also production and carbon sequestration. A new enhancement for the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program allows participants to convert their woody debris into biochar.

Biochar is made by baking biomass (such as tree wood, plants, manure, and other organic materials) without the oxygen that could cause it to burn completely to ash. In the barn it can be applied directly to manure to capture nitrogen as it is generated. It can be mixed with composted manure for use a as fertilizer for pastures.

Simple, portable kilns are used to burn biomass to create biochar. The key to burning is that the flame is on the top of the kiln—which burns particulates in smoke and limits oxygen flow to the char layers below the flame, preventing the char from burning all the way to ash.

For a deeper dive into the science of biochar and on-farm applications check out these online resources.

For more information on USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Innovation Grants.

Barr Farms, Rhodelia, KY is presenting its experience with biochar at the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group conference January 22-25 in Little Rock, AR.