Biochar: an ancient method for today’s environmental crisis

Nov 12, 2019

Charcoal could be the answer to making farming more environmentally friendly.

Research trials are being carried out a farm to test whether feeding cattle charcoal can cut emissions from livestock. 

The investigation, which is being carried out by Coventry University and Innovative Farmers has been garnering attention after appearing on BBC’s television programme Countryfile on the 10th of November 2019. 

  

As part of the trials cattle on a farm in Lincolnshire are being fed biochar, which is a form of charcoal created to improve soils. The substance could reduce methane and ammonia emissions from cattle and limit the impact of manure on waterways by reducing nitrate leaching. It could also potentially benefit the cattle by absorbing toxins and reducing parasitic worms as well as increasing the carbon levels in soil thereby reducing erosion.

Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network that enables farmer-led research helped bring about the field-labs to test the research in the real world. So far the results have been positive but more research is needed so the field lab has been extended with several farmers in Wales now set to trial biochar feed on their farms over the next year.

Cattle and other grazing animals are a producer of ammonia and methane and livestock farming has an environmental impact. The biochar research has the potential to reduce the emissions as well as have benefits for the soil as Coventry University researchers and farmers test the impact of biochar-feed manure on grass growth and soil health as part of the trials.

Donna Udall, Research Assistant at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR), said: “Biochar has the potential to shake up the farming industry and results so far have been promising, although we are looking at expanding the trials to other farms to compare initial findings.”

“Initiatives like this show that the farming industry can make real progress towards reducing its environmental impact and we are continuing to engage more farmers so that they can become part of the solution for climate change.”

Farmer Richard Copley, who is leading the research at his farm in Grantham, said, “Biochar can not only help the environment but help the bottom line of farms across the UK. With research opportunities like Innovative Farmers, Coventry University and the Soil Association we can look to a truly sustainable future for British farming.”

Helen Aldis, Innovative Farmers Development Manager, said: “This interesting farmer-led research suggests biochar could have an important role to play in reducing environmental impacts of food and farming. Sharing findings through networks like Innovative Farmers allows farmers to find sustainable and practical solutions to farming and food production challenges.”

To find out more about the biochar research project visit https://www.coventry.ac.uk/research/research-directories/current-projects/2015/biochar/.

To find out more about the field lab visit www.innovativefarmers.org where trial updates and results are shared open source. 

What is biochar?  Biochar – a type of charcoal – is formed when biomass is heated to more than 250°C in a zero-oxygen environment. It benefits soil health through its highly porous structure and holds a lot of moisture and nutrients, helping to improve crop yields.  

Innovative Farmers is a not-for-profit network that brings farmers and growers together with researchers and funders, to facilitate ground-level innovation. Many of the best ideas in farming come from farmers, but research largely takes place off-farm: Innovative Farmers changes that. Farmers work in groups, collaborating on practical field labs to test techniques and tools, and find lasting solutions to practical problems. Since the network was established in 2012, over 1000 farmers have taken part in field labs covering more than 40 topics.

Subjects are diverse and currently include: in-field variation within no-till systems; herbal lets for dairy herds; alternative methods for terminating cover crops; and biochar for soil health. Innovative Farmers is part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme.

The network is funded by the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund and backed by a team from LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), Innovation for Agriculture, the Organic Research Centre and the Soil Association. The network’s partners span educational, research and charitable organisations and include: ADAS, Duchy College, the Centre for Agroecology, the Food Security & Land Research Alliance and Harper Adams University. Innovative Farmers is sponsored by Produce World Group, BBSRC, AHDB, Riverford and Buccleuch. It is supported by the Farmer Network, the Pasture Fed Livestock Association, the EU funded LIAISON project, and the Organic Growers Alliance.

For further press information, please contact Catherine Senior, Press Officer at Coventry University, on 02477 658352 catherine.senior@coventry.co.uk

 

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