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"Agriculture Bill will make biochar an even more attractive option to growers"

In the last two months the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) officially recognised biochar as a “promising Negative Emissions Technology (NET)”, and the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society declared biochar a key tool in helping the UK reach the target of net-zero emissions by 2050. With the environmental provisions set out in the Agriculture Bill, this could well mean Government subsidies for a product that improves plant health, reduces the need for irrigation, and boosts yield. A win-win for growers.

As an urgently needed replacement of EU legislation, we can expect Michael Gove’s Agriculture Bill to get Royal Assent before 29 March, when the UK will officially leave the European Union.

The bill, which is currently at the Committee stage in the House of Commons, will most likely be backed by the Tory whip, so it’s safe to say it will undergo minimal changes from its initial state. Commercial growers can therefore speculate about their future post-Brexit with a reasonable degree of confidence, at least in terms of legislation.

There are a few interesting differences between this post-Brexit bill and the EU legislation it replaces. The bill states:

The Secretary of State may give financial assistance for or in connection with any of the following purposes:

a)     managing land or water in a way that protects or improves the environment;

b)     supporting public access to and enjoyment of the countryside, farmland or woodland and better understanding of the environment;

c)     managing land or water in a way that maintains, restores or enhances cultural heritage or natural heritage;

d)     mitigating or adapting to climate change;

e)     preventing, reducing or protecting from environmental hazards;

f)      protecting or improving the health or welfare of livestock;

g)     protecting or improving the health of plants.

Those familiar with the effects and benefits of enriched biochar will recognise that it falls under multiple categories here, most obviously improving soil quality and the health of plants. But it also combats climate change, which was last week officially recognised by the IPCC, the United Nation’s climate change committee, as a very promising NET. The Royal Society’s recent report in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering, Greenhouse Gas Removal, also highlights biochar as a key tool for reducing atmospheric CO2.

Biochar is a purified form of charcoal that improves the structure, aeration and water-holding capacity of soils and substrates. Because it is purified, biochar is naturally high in carbon, making it recalcitrant and non-biodegradable. A tonne of biochar in the soil is the equivalent to three tonnes of carbon dioxide permanently sequestered from the atmosphere.

Carbon Gold’s biochar products are enriched with UK-native mycorrhizal and Trichoderma fungi, seaweed and wormcasts and have been shown to improve crop health and vitality in both soils and substrates, reduce the severity of diseases including root mat and phytophthora, and reduce the need for irrigation and fertilisers.

Among the key concerns Brexit has raised for UK commercial horticulture is the impact of profitability, owing to potential increases in trading costs and a squeeze on labour. The Agriculture Bill, by supporting biochar use, can help to reduce the cost of inputs, leading to improved plant health and higher yields, going some way to address these concerns.

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