What’s biochar? How to stabilize carbon in your soil

Biochar, otherwise known as charcoal, is an age-old method of increasing soil health. Learn more about the science and how to make your own biochar from expert Kai Hoffman-Krull.

The question of growing food in changing climate is one we all need to be asking. We all eat. Predictions illustrate that climate change could cause irrigated wheat yields in developing countries to drop by 13%, and irrigated rice could fall by 15% by the year 2050. In Africa, maize yields could drop by 10–20% over the same time frame. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that global food production could be reduced by up to 17% by the year 2100 due to crop failures from increased weather variation. The population in the year 2100 is estimated to be 11.2 billion people.

As so many of us know, agriculture has been a part of the global carbon crisis that has brought us to this point in history. Research suggests that up through the turn of our century agriculture has been responsible for one-third of our global greenhouse gas emissions. The production of food makes up the lion’s share of all food related greenhouse-gas emissions—86%. How we grow food is a part of how we heal our atmosphere.

As a part of a larger movement of regenerative carbon-based practices, including reduced and no till systems, cover cropping, green manures, rotational grazing, composting, etc., charcoal, also known as “biochar,” is illustrating the ability to decrease carbon mineralization, making carbon more stable in the soil, while also increasing biological activity. This research suggests that biochar could assist all of these other regenerative practices, maximizing their carbon storage capabilities. This article will cover some of this research, as well as biochar’s influence on soil resiliency in the biological food-web and how you can make charcoal on your own farm.

Read the full article at the Rodale Institute.


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