The benefits of biochar in agriculture are multi-faceted. Not only does biochar offer an avenue for farmers to use excess organic materials, but biochar itself is a powerful soil amendment.
At the current rate of food production, agricultural practices are depleting soils quicker than they can be replenished. The rising human population on Earth only exacerbates this problem. As such, we are in a situation where sustainable agriculture is no longer just a trending concept, but rather a necessity for protecting the environment.
Because biochar is a powerful soil amendment, it can help replenish soils that have been diminished through commercial farming. As major proponents of biochar, we’ve put together this brief exploration into the many uses of biochar in agriculture.
Biochar as a Source of Plant Nutrients
Biochar is a fascinating compound that affects nutrient levels in soils in several ways. Depending on the feedstock in question, biochar often supplies nutrients directly to crops. Even more, its high porosity allows biochar to regulate nutrient uptake at the root zone of plants.
People often mistake biochar for compost. However, soil scientists note that “compost is a direct source of nutrients through further decomposition of organic materials.” Conversely, biochar does not break down further in soil, rather it retains its structural integrity as it releases water and nutrients.
Because biochar can be made from any organic compound on earth, it can contain a variety of nutrients itself. Generally speaking, biochar is known to raise soil PH and increase electrical conductivity (EC) around the root zone. Studies have also shown biochar to be a source of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P).
Biochar for Soil Fertility and Productivity
Current agricultural practices are depleting the soil of macronutrients nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). As farmers continue to practice monocropping without leaving ample fallow time, fields become increasingly unproductive.
The most defining characteristic of biochar is its high porosity and immense surface area. Because biochar is made through a heating process, it resembles charcoal in many of its primary physical traits. The porous surface of biochar provides a “refuge for beneficial soil microorganisms such as mycorrhizae and bacteria and influences the binding of important nutritive cations and anions. This binding can enhance the availability of macro-nutrients such as N and P.”
As an amendment, biochar has the ability to help previously depleted soils regain their vitality. By housing living organisms, biochar helps establish living soil that can be used year after year – without the need for tilling or plowing.
Biochar in Soil Carbon Sequestration
While biochar is an invaluable tool for farmers as a soil amendment, it also has incredible benefits concerning carbon sequestration. Biochar gives us the ability to reduce the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. As such, biochar has the potential to greatly slow greenhouse emissions and global warming.
The carbon cycle is responsible for regulating levels of carbon within the earth and atmosphere. Since the industrial revolution, commercial agriculture practices and the burning of fossil fuels have thrown the carbon cycle out of balance. Today, excess carbon in the atmosphere directly contributes to climate change.
Carbon farming is an agricultural practice where farmers intentionally conduct operations in a fashion that keeps carbon from entering the atmosphere. In essence, these farmers use their farms as “carbon sinks” where more carbon is pulled into the ground than is released into the air.
Biochar offers an intriguing new option for the practice of carbon farming. With biochar, farmers can sequester carbon from leftover plant materials and keep it concealed in the soil far into the future.
Benefits of Using Biochar for Growing Hemp
When biochar has time to work in your soil, it promotes a living community of symbiotic organisms. Because you don’t have to till this living biochar soil, you will save money on farm labor expenses in the springtime.
Hemp crops thrive in sunny and dry climates. Especially for hemp CBD plants, low humidity is critical for growing large flowers without fear of mold and mildew. However, the very regions where hemp plants grow the best oftentimes lack available water.
Using biochar as a soil amendment for your hemp farm will reduce the amount of water you need to use each growing season.
Limitations of Biochar
While biochar uses in agriculture show serious potential, there are a few notable limitations on the product.
Because biochar can be made from compounds as diverse as hardwood and animal manure, it can be difficult to predict how biochar will react when used. In the end, it could be very difficult to match the appropriate type of biochar with the right soil type. However, as biochar production becomes standardized and our knowledge expands, it’s likely biochar can be used with much more accuracy in the future.
Biochar and Sustainable Agriculture
As we learn more about the inner workings of mother nature, we are well-advised to mimic her methods when solving environmental issues. Today, we are in a position where we must admit that established commercial farming practices are untenable in the long run.
Biochar offers an intriguing way to amend soils and return farmland to its original state of productivity. Following processes found in the natural world, biochar gives farmers the ability to grow crops with fewer fertilizer inputs, while also establishing biological communities directly within farm soil.
The grocery market also presents opportunities for farmers interested in using biochar methods. Today, foods labeled as “organic” and “sustainably sourced” fetch higher prices at stores than others. All things considered, rising market demand for organically grown produce might very well be the catalyst to push more farmers into trying biochar.
Contact High Grade Hemp Seed
At High Grade Hemp Seed, we are putting serious resources into learning all we can about the uses of biochar in agriculture. Our team of cultivation experts is thrilled to see where hemp farming takes biochar in the future. Please contact us to learn more.