Where we stand with biochar in California 2020 #compost #market #solvita


Rick Wilson
 

Biochar group. Happy New Years to everyone!

I wanted to reflect where we are with commercializing biochar for soil applications in California, hoping the future provides promise for the technology.  

If you don't know who I am, I have been involved with biochar since 2012, first leading the development of Cool Planets technology.  Which is to neutralize the pH of biochar. 
I personally hold a number of biochar related patents. And I have a Ph.D. in Chemical engineering.  I serve on the board of the National Renewable Energy lab. 
Having designed or participated in well over 100 biochar trials. A limitation, my experience is almost exclusively in California which have generally alkaline soils with low organic matter. 
So I know a little bit about biochar. 

What I know is that Farmers here turn to the UC Extension, or the Resource Conservation District for advise on best farming practice. 

Best practice here has evolved to what is know as "Regenerative Agriculture".  Which means building soil quality by introducing biodiversity to farming practices.
Cover crops, Permaculture, crop rotations.  And compost. 

I am unaware of anyone in the UC or RCD system recommending biochar.  

This is our challenge. 

What I know about biochar is 1) it stabilizes organic matter in the long run and 2) it facilitates nitrogen cycling 3) it can provide labile organic matter, which compost can also do 4) is alkaline in general which can help acidic soils (not in California).

Biochar in agriculture, 50% of the time approximately you see positive results. Otherwise it HURTS.  Biochar is a a very complicated material and it seems that everyone believes like it always helps, it does not. Kurt Spokas of the USDA established this as a fact.  We need to stop pretending biochar helps in every soil.  It does not. 

It's not as simple as producing biochar and results will follow. 

This group needs to engage in discussions around soil science, establish where it helps, why, and where it is detrimental. 

Permitting biochar machines in California is tough due to stringent air emission standards. Biochar machine producers don't know what their emissions are. 

So if we want to advance biochar we need 1) UC Extension or RCD to promote its use 2) establish the story on what biochar does in the soil and where it can help, and where it does not 3) have machine producers know what their are emissions are. 

There is a huge opportunity for biochar in California. Starting tomorrow, green waste (tree trimmings) can no longer go into landfills.  
Tipping fees are going through the roof. Half of what goes into landfills.

Site a biochar machine here, and the tipping fees pay for the equipment. But you have to get the feedstock, so you need to be integrated into the waste management companies.
And you have to be a master of soil formulation, and face the fact that biochar can HURT plant systems in half of all applications, and know surgically where it can help. 

Happy New Years!
Rick Wilson












ROBERT W GILLETT
 

Hey Rick,

I agree that it takes a master of soil formulation to do well with biochar in agriculture. An imperfect analogy can be drawn to investing. Buying random stocks is almost sure to result in a loss (there's a lot of junk out there). However, since the Great Depression of the 1930's, stocks have provided an average 10.3% annual return. Who is getting those returns? Professional investors and a few smart or lucky amateurs (not me, un-Fortune-ately). So, while it may be that half the time biochar HURTS, the biochar intelligentsia can gain a track record that PROVES that biochar helps when properly produced and managed. I think this goes along with what you are saying here.

HNY,
Robert Gillett


Daniel Pidgeon
 

Thank you Rick!

I heard of biochar for the first time about two years ago, when researching how to improve soils for people I volunteered with, who have nothing to be able to input. Biochar seemed to be the answer, with the right stove, or made using crop residue in the right retort or kiln instead of just burning it.

But in all that time, in all that reading, no-one has been so plain and clear that it is only 50% hit and miss for improving soil health and fertility benefits!!

My question is, is this the end of the story, for alkaline soils for instance? I realise clay has minimal benefit from biochar, vs. sandy soil. But is there benefit to alkaline sandy soils if, for instance, biochar is composted first? Or allowed to permeate in a compost tea or Korean Natural Farming solution or something? Or is it simply a matter of, if the soil is alkaline, then it is best to avoid biochar completely, and just use these methods on their own?

Or am I simply throwing the cat among the pigeons?

Daniel Pidgeon


Greta Loeffelbein
 

Hey all,

Small-scale gardener here (we use a Pyramid Kiln), couple questions on this thread--

We have heavy clay soil, western Oregon.  Given, clay soil already has adequate cation exchange capacity (CEC).  But can't biochar benefit it by improving its tilth, aeration, fluffiness?  Is the extra CEC from biochar harmful somehow?

What is the advantage to using manure as a biochar feedstock--aren't most of the manure's nutrients lost that way?


On Jan 1, 2020, at 4:14 AM, Daniel Pidgeon <daniel.pidgeon@...> wrote:

Thank you Rick!

I heard of biochar for the first time about two years ago, when researching how to improve soils for people I volunteered with, who have nothing to be able to input. Biochar seemed to be the answer, with the right stove, or made using crop residue in the right retort or kiln instead of just burning it.

But in all that time, in all that reading, no-one has been so plain and clear that it is only 50% hit and miss for improving soil health and fertility benefits!!

My question is, is this the end of the story, for alkaline soils for instance? I realise clay has minimal benefit from biochar, vs. sandy soil. But is there benefit to alkaline sandy soils if, for instance, biochar is composted first? Or allowed to permeate in a compost tea or Korean Natural Farming solution or something? Or is it simply a matter of, if the soil is alkaline, then it is best to avoid biochar completely, and just use these methods on their own?

Or am I simply throwing the cat among the pigeons?

Daniel Pidgeon


Ron Larson
 

Rick and List:

Thanks for this input.  The inserts below are to clarify your remarks.   

For others, I can add that I have a high regard for Rick.  We have been communicating about biochar for at least 7-8 year’s, including when he was with Cool Planet..

See inserts.

On Jan 1, 2020, at 12:15 AM, Rick Wilson via Groups.Io <rick012@...> wrote:

Biochar group. Happy New Years to everyone!

I wanted to reflect where we are with commercializing biochar for soil applications in California, hoping the future provides promise for the technology.  

If you don't know who I am, I have been involved with biochar since 2012, first leading the development of Cool Planets technology.  Which is to neutralize the pH of biochar. 
I personally hold a number of biochar related patents. And I have a Ph.D. in Chemical engineering.  I serve on the board of the National Renewable Energy lab. 
Having designed or participated in well over 100 biochar trials. A limitation, my experience is almost exclusively in California which have generally alkaline soils with low organic matter. 
So I know a little bit about biochar. 

What I know is that Farmers here turn to the UC Extension, or the Resource Conservation District for advise on best farming practice. 

Best practice here has evolved to what is know as "Regenerative Agriculture".  Which means building soil quality by introducing biodiversity to farming practices.
Cover crops, Permaculture, crop rotations.  And compost. 

I am unaware of anyone in the UC or RCD system recommending biochar.
    [RWL:  This is a big surprise.

 

This is our challenge. 

What I know about biochar is 1) it stabilizes organic matter in the long run and 2) it facilitates nitrogen cycling 3) it can provide labile organic matter, which compost can also do 4) is alkaline in general which can help acidic soils (not in California).

Biochar in agriculture, 50% of the time approximately you see positive results. Otherwise it HURTS.  Biochar is a a very complicated material and it seems that everyone believes like it always helps, it does not. Kurt Spokas of the USDA established this as a fact.  We need to stop pretending biochar helps in every soil.  It does not. 
[RWL:   I believe this statistic - based on several meta studies.  But I wonder if it holds with material in your 100 studies.  The literature I have read from CoolPlanet and others is much more positive.   
When you are supplying a char - do you expect only a 50% positive result?


It's not as simple as producing biochar and results will follow. 

This group needs to engage in discussions around soil science, establish where it helps, why, and where it is detrimental. 
[RWL:   We (today 933 on this list) can do some of it - but we need more Federal funding.  I just sent out a request to this list noting a California meeting on 15 Jan - where we can complain about Congress failure to fund what you are asking for.

Permitting biochar machines in California is tough due to stringent air emission standards. Biochar machine producers don't know what their emissions are. 

So if we want to advance biochar we need 1) UC Extension or RCD to promote its use 2) establish the story on what biochar does in the soil and where it can help, and where it does not 3) have machine producers know what their are emissions are. 
` [RWL:  Probably #1 has to follow #2 and #3.

There is a huge opportunity for biochar in California. Starting tomorrow, green waste (tree trimmings) can no longer go into landfills.  
Tipping fees are going through the roof. Half of what goes into landfills.

Site a biochar machine here, and the tipping fees pay for the equipment. But you have to get the feedstock, so you need to be integrated into the waste management companies.
And you have to be a master of soil formulation, and face the fact that biochar can HURT plant systems in half of all applications, and know surgically where it can help. 
[RWL:   I am asking for more from you on the “surgery”.   More specifically, how much of the 100 studies by Cool Planet are available for possible release to the public?  I have seen some very promising results in the few Cool Plane studies I have seen.  (Thank you for those.)

In sum, I just don’t believe that today, we have to expect a 50% result (while agreeing that is in the literature).

Ron

Happy New Years!
Rick Wilson













Milt McGiffen
 

I work for UC and I do promote biochar. But that has gotten harder, as more growers have used it and generally do not find much return on their investment. And my own studies back that up. While in a few cases we have seen signficant improvement, mostly there is little change in yield. We do suggest it as a way of improving soil health and for other benefits such as nutrient retention. But unless that is subsidized, most growers find their profit margins to be too small to justify. 

I would really like to see the use of biochar take off for all the benefits everyone in the group has mentioned, but until growers see an economic benefit, I doubt it will happen. 


mikethewormguy
 

Rick,

Happy New Year....!

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

my 2 cents,

Mike











Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


Tom Miles
 

This is a good time to ask the question to producers, brokers, and formulators who are on the front lines working the markets, “What is the most important  thing that US Biochar Initiative could do to help you market your biochars and biochar based systems?” (Rick, What would help you sell you biochars and biochar based products in California?) Please identify the products, systems, and markets.

 

You can post ideas here online or offline to usbiochar@....

 

You needs will help us develop strategic plans for 2020.

 

Many Thanks

 

Tom

 

Tom Miles

Executive Director

U.S. Biochar Initiative

"Promoting the Sustainable Production and Use of Biochar"

www.biochar-us.org

@USbiochar

Facebook US Biochar Initiative

USBI Logo - Copy (420x176) 

 

 

 

From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of mikethewormguy via Groups.Io
Sent: Wednesday, January 01, 2020 7:08 PM
To: main@Biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

Rick,

 

Happy New Year....!

 

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

 

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

 

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

 

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

 

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

 

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

 

my 2 cents,

 

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

 


Hugh McLaughlin
 

Tom and the biochar world,

Addressing the issue of measuring, and assigning value in specific growing situations to, core biochar properties (as made) would promote the valuation and comparison of commercially available biochars. This is different than the IBI Standards, which target unacceptable properties, such as toxicity and heavy metals. While the IBI Standards promote the existence of a mechanism for modification, the pace of updating is unacceptably slow, with the last tweaks being in 2012.

Since national markets are tied to national economic drivers, such as incentives or the lack thereof, it is logical that national biochar organizations should address market valuations of biochar. IBI represents global concerns, including climate. In the meantime, charity begins at home.

- Hugh McLaughlin, PhD, PE - CTO of NextChar.com


On Wednesday, January 1, 2020, 10:49:23 PM EST, Tom Miles <tmiles@...> wrote:


This is a good time to ask the question to producers, brokers, and formulators who are on the front lines working the markets, “What is the most important  thing that US Biochar Initiative could do to help you market your biochars and biochar based systems?” (Rick, What would help you sell you biochars and biochar based products in California?) Please identify the products, systems, and markets.

 

You can post ideas here online or offline to usbiochar@....

 

You needs will help us develop strategic plans for 2020.

 

Many Thanks

 

Tom

 

Tom Miles

Executive Director

U.S. Biochar Initiative

"Promoting the Sustainable Production and Use of Biochar"

www.biochar-us.org

@USbiochar

Facebook US Biochar Initiative

USBI Logo - Copy (420x176) 

 

 

 



Kelpie Wilson
 

Rick,
I don't know why anyone these days would use raw, uncharged biochar in a field trial in an alkaline soil. We know it is not a good idea. But to take it a step further, we need to be using biochar first to manage the other high nitrogen wastes that our society produces. The N cycle is even more out of whack than the C cycle and our biochar is the perfect ingredient for keeping N and P out of the environment where they do harm. Meanwhile, that N and P get combined with the biochar C to create slow release fertilizers. These are the biochar cascades that Albert Bates, Kathleen Draper and others have described so articulately. 

We struggle to manage mounds of manure, biosolids, food waste and other organic waste that is crying out for biochar. Let's focus on that first and then see if what we have is a good soil amendment. In most cases the answer will be yes.

Here's a little experiment that I did that anyone can try. I went to a local small egg producer and got 6 five gallon buckets of fresh, chicken poo with almost no bedding. I made 3 piles that started with 10 gallons of manure - one was plain manure, one had 25% biochar mixed in (my homemade, high T, high pH wood biochar) and one had 50% biochar. I let them sit for about a month and measured temperature in the piles. The one with the most biochar got the hottest, indicating more biological activity. The one with the most biochar also had the lowest pH at the end - near neutral. This shows that even though it had more of the highly alkaline char - 50% - the biological activity neutralized the alkalinity. 

Outside of a few extreme cases, there is no bad biochar, just biochar that was not used correctly.

Kelpie

--
Email: kelpiew@...
Mobile: 541-218-9890
Time zone: Pacific Time, USA
Skype: kelpie.wilson


Frank Strie
 

Thank you Tom,
It is good to get this addressed.
As you know I am not based in California (but I have visited and travelled previously), we live and work under Down Under in Tasmania.
I have been involved with the Biochar topic for a long time first contacted and corresponded with the Terra Preta soil research scientist Prof. Bruno Glaser based in Germany in early 2004 immediately after watching the Terra Preta Documentary on Australian TV.
Professionally I am involved with  Biochar technologies since August 2007. Since 2014 we produce use biochar on our own property in various ways,  we produce commercial scale Biochar products and entry level / proof of concept scale but before we started trading our Biochar products we had 4 different chars analysed in Germany according to the EBC test procedures.
Our happy repeated customers can purchase our FRANK’S CHAR branded products and plants, seedlings, fruits and veggies & ornamental arrangements at the local Harvest Markets, in a number of Garden Centres and Exhibitions. Some people come to pick up their chars and produces on our base and on that occasion visit the Veggie Garden, the Fruit Orchard and Hazelnut Grove.
Especially now in our summer we see the amazement expressed when people see our Asparagus Ferns that soon will reach 4 metres = 12 foot again. There is plenty of evidence that the systems approach works well.

As so very well outlined in Terra Preta book and in the most recent book of Carbon Cascades we are dealing with complex systems not just some black carbon product in isolation. Biochar, FeedChar, FiltrationChar, Construction Char and many other specialised DesignerChars  are all parts of an already ongoing systems approach.
To question the fundamental effectiveness of biochar and or blaming the pH or apparent liming effect of the stable char just indicates to me how little some (employed) people know about the reasons and effects to be expected.

Holistic management, and proper Mind Mapping, Research Trials that are based on good sense, proper thoughts and a real interest linked with ongoing  observations and active information sharing all go together. We are not locked into a Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm mindset, we are committed to the future and willingness to share and compare and learn.

This previous discussion points made by someone about the 50%/ 50%  results is a classic lab science thinking stuff. I noticed this over the years now by some “experts” often in white lab clothing, still questioning the most basic, fundamental effects of pyrogenic carbon that is used to foster life, therefore called Biochar / bios = Greek for life / Biology being LiveScience.

I do not as a priority care what institution someone works for because a lot of great work was done by individuals and groups of people who care to share and discuss openly their interests, ideas and considerations.
Anyone involved in the Biochar topic  should ask WHY do it?

Kelpie Wilson has outlined well and shared a long time ago (more than 5 years ago already)
How biochar works in soil

by Kelpie Wilson

Hypotheses of biochar’s role in the development of fertile soils have become strong arguments in favor of its intentional soil application. However, field research trials demonstrate a range of results that contrast overwhelming yield improvements in some places with neutral or even negative results in other places.  The mixture of hype and science has clouded the search for a mechanistic understanding of soil biochar additions. Appreciating the fact that biochar materials produce widely different results depending on soil, climate and type of biochar, the question remains: How does biochar work in soil?
Here is the link: https://www.biochar-journal.org/en/ct/32

Feel free to call in for a visit next time you are in Tassie or visit our website www.terrapretadevelopments.com.au/products

1.     Inline image 1

Schwabenforest Pty. Ltd.
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Rosevears, TAS, 7277
ph: 6394 4395
m: 61 (0) 417 312 927
Skype: frank.strie1

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FranksCharTasmania
website: https://www.terrapretadevelopments.com.au/products


Member of the International Biochar Initiative
www.biochar-international.org

Associated with: the Biochar Journal & the Ithaka Institute
www.biochar-journal.org/en

 

The original home base of Australian Wilderness Adventures -
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https://www.trektasmania.com.au , Tarkine Trails

AND

Frank Strie   (Managing Director AU)

------------------------------------------------------------



The whole range of top quality FeedChars for
pets – livestock – poultry - fish

 

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From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Tom Miles
Sent: Thursday, January 2, 2020 2:49 PM
To: main@Biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

This is a good time to ask the question to producers, brokers, and formulators who are on the front lines working the markets, “What is the most important  thing that US Biochar Initiative could do to help you market your biochars and biochar based systems?” (Rick, What would help you sell you biochars and biochar based products in California?) Please identify the products, systems, and markets.

 

You can post ideas here online or offline to usbiochar@....

 

You needs will help us develop strategic plans for 2020.

 

Many Thanks

 

Tom

 

Tom Miles

Executive Director

U.S. Biochar Initiative

"Promoting the Sustainable Production and Use of Biochar"

www.biochar-us.org

@USbiochar

Facebook US Biochar Initiative

USBI Logo - Copy (420x176) 

 

 

 

From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of mikethewormguy via Groups.Io
Sent: Wednesday, January 01, 2020 7:08 PM
To:
main@Biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

Rick,

 

Happy New Year....!

 

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

 

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

 

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

 

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

 

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

 

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

 

my 2 cents,

 

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

 


Gordon West
 

Mike’s approach to using biochar supports how we think about it, too. It’s a physical soil component and residence/tool for soil microbiology to function better.

Regarding this comment:
 Biochar in agriculture, 50% of the time approximately you see positive results. Otherwise it HURTS.  Biochar is a a very complicated material and it seems that everyone believes like it always helps, it does not. Kurt Spokas of the USDA established this as a fact.  We need to stop pretending biochar helps in every soil.  It does not. 

What are some examples of the 50% of the time that it hurts? Are they scenarios of toxic chemical reactions from unclean char? Raw biochar “stealing” nutrients in the short term?  I am not personally familiar with any hurtful responses, but I have observed some non-responses.

I had one customer who used our biochar raw, for the purpose of mitigating the presence of a persistent herbicide (even though composting) that she introduced to her vegetable garden via horse manure from animals fed with hay from a herbicide treated crop. She showed me the indicators, mostly in young bean plants and tomatoes, primarily leaf curl and yellowing. The plants started improving within weeks of the biochar application and looked great a couple of months later. There were no soil tests done, it’s just anecdotal and photo-documented. I wanted to relate that as an apparent use for biochar that hasn’t been discussed much, an example of using it to correct a healthy and 
common practice of natural soil amendment that had been corrupted two or three stages away from its use in a garden. 

Gordon West
The Trollworks
503 N. “E” Street
Silver City, NM 88061
575-537-3689

An entrepreneur sees problems as the seeds of opportunity.





On Jan 1, 2020, at 8:08 PM, mikethewormguy via Groups.Io <mikethewormguy@...> wrote:

Rick,

Happy New Year....!

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

my 2 cents,

Mike











Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone



Tom Miles
 

Gordon,

 

It is likely the herbicide was clopyralid which is used with horse feed and doesn’t break down in composting. Biochars have been used in commercial compost operations to offset the toxicity of clopyralid for several years now. One composter adds biochar after screening the finished compost. Thousands of cubic yards of biochar are used for this purpose each year, just in one operation.  

 

We’re looking for specific ways in which USBI, as a volunteer organization, can help producers market biochar.  In your case it might be useful for USBI to develop flyers on uses where biochar has been used beneficially. For example, last month I described the system that Powbrook Farms in Western Australia has developed which incorporates biochar and has resulted in twice the yield of fruit. The system has been adopted by many other fruit growers in the area. It is also important to describe the qualities of the biochars used in a particular application. Biochars of different qualities can be used for different purposes. Equally important are uses to avoid. It is typically not the application itself but, as Mike describes, the system in which biochar has been used, what material is used, the needs of the soils where it has been used, how it is applied, and how the use is maintained.

 

Tom

 

From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Gordon West
Sent: Thursday, January 02, 2020 7:30 AM
To: main@Biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

Mike’s approach to using biochar supports how we think about it, too. It’s a physical soil component and residence/tool for soil microbiology to function better.

 

Regarding this comment:

 Biochar in agriculture, 50% of the time approximately you see positive results. Otherwise it HURTS.  Biochar is a a very complicated material and it seems that everyone believes like it always helps, it does not. Kurt Spokas of the USDA established this as a fact.  We need to stop pretending biochar helps in every soil.  It does not. 

 

What are some examples of the 50% of the time that it hurts? Are they scenarios of toxic chemical reactions from unclean char? Raw biochar “stealing” nutrients in the short term?  I am not personally familiar with any hurtful responses, but I have observed some non-responses.

 

I had one customer who used our biochar raw, for the purpose of mitigating the presence of a persistent herbicide (even though composting) that she introduced to her vegetable garden via horse manure from animals fed with hay from a herbicide treated crop. She showed me the indicators, mostly in young bean plants and tomatoes, primarily leaf curl and yellowing. The plants started improving within weeks of the biochar application and looked great a couple of months later. There were no soil tests done, it’s just anecdotal and photo-documented. I wanted to relate that as an apparent use for biochar that hasn’t been discussed much, an example of using it to correct a healthy and 

common practice of natural soil amendment that had been corrupted two or three stages away from its use in a garden. 

 

Gordon West

The Trollworks

503 N. “E” Street

Silver City, NM 88061

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On Jan 1, 2020, at 8:08 PM, mikethewormguy via Groups.Io <mikethewormguy@...> wrote:

 

Rick,

 

Happy New Year....!

 

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

 

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

 

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

 

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

 

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

 

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

 

my 2 cents,

 

Mike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone

 

 


mikethewormguy
 

Tom......

I will speak only about the market for ag applications.....

The ag market is not monolithic.  There are issues like......

Scale....large vs small
Business Model.... growing on speculation vs contract.
Crop Type.....high value vs low value
Budget for inputs......known vs unknown
What is the issue that biochar is to address..?
What is success defined as...?
Does the grower own the land or rents..?
Is the grower a believer or making a living..?
How experienced is the grower....?

All of the above are interrelated and effects how a grower will approach a  biochar app.

We can produce value for a grower but only they can DEFINE  value.....

How do you find out how the grower defines value..?    You ask and listen....   All of the growers i have met will tell you their top issue to solve...  Can  a  biochar based formulation help directly or indirectly solve this issue..?

How can USBI help...?   Attend more trade shows and listen...?

Thought experiments.......  How can annual biochar applications reduce a growers cost of production.....?    What is the ROI from the annual use of biochar applications...?

What are the benefits of better soil tilth...? less tillage, less gas, less labor, better crop establishment, less irrigation........

What is the financial case for biochar in ag....?   

Possibly USBI can help to continue to answer this fiscal question.

The growers I work with desire to spend 5-7% of the per acre value of their crop on all inputs....  Any biochar application must fit into this within season budget box.

There is no future for biochar if it does not pencil out.......

What form does biochar application take if the grower only can afford $40 per acre for this application.....?

After many years as a biochar practioner,  the magic of biochar is in how it is used and not in itself......

my 2 cents.....

Mike



Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


Frank Strie
 

Thank you Kelpie,
As always you are spot on with your points / response you just provided here.
I can confirm the chicken manure exercise, done similar and the pH dropped dramatically by co-composting poultry shed bedding that contained manure, pine sawdust and biochar.
I blend it with the same multi blade garden shredder that we use to crush the fresh biochar, works excellent!
My Blueberries and Raspberries and Strawberries are all responded well to the treatment, so do the 100+ Tomato plants of various verities and the Beet Roots, Asparagus … I could go on!
We sell our biochar for AUS$ 1500.- in 1m3 volume purchase to staged (according to bag size) up to AUS$8.-/ 1 litre bag, …
People love it and they show me their photos from their own results.
Like I suggested previously it is a systems approach combining regenerative management practices from the spot to the entire landscape. … The Carbon  Cascade my Chickens collaborate with me on that!
Cheers
Frank

 

From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Kelpie Wilson
Sent: Thursday, January 2, 2020 4:46 PM
To: main@biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

Rick,

I don't know why anyone these days would use raw, uncharged biochar in a field trial in an alkaline soil. We know it is not a good idea. But to take it a step further, we need to be using biochar first to manage the other high nitrogen wastes that our society produces. The N cycle is even more out of whack than the C cycle and our biochar is the perfect ingredient for keeping N and P out of the environment where they do harm. Meanwhile, that N and P get combined with the biochar C to create slow release fertilizers. These are the biochar cascades that Albert Bates, Kathleen Draper and others have described so articulately. 

 

We struggle to manage mounds of manure, biosolids, food waste and other organic waste that is crying out for biochar. Let's focus on that first and then see if what we have is a good soil amendment. In most cases the answer will be yes.

 

Here's a little experiment that I did that anyone can try. I went to a local small egg producer and got 6 five gallon buckets of fresh, chicken poo with almost no bedding. I made 3 piles that started with 10 gallons of manure - one was plain manure, one had 25% biochar mixed in (my homemade, high T, high pH wood biochar) and one had 50% biochar. I let them sit for about a month and measured temperature in the piles. The one with the most biochar got the hottest, indicating more biological activity. The one with the most biochar also had the lowest pH at the end - near neutral. This shows that even though it had more of the highly alkaline char - 50% - the biological activity neutralized the alkalinity. 

 

Outside of a few extreme cases, there is no bad biochar, just biochar that was not used correctly.

 

Kelpie

 

--

Email: kelpiew@...
Mobile: 541-218-9890

Time zone: Pacific Time, USA
Skype: kelpie.wilson


Stephen Joseph
 

I think it is scientifically shown now that the properties of fresh biochar can be very different to those of aged biochar and that different methods of aging induce different properties.  Feedstock and temperature also affect the changes that occur during aging.

Adding to Kelpie .  The amount of biochar you add also affects plant response.  Too much of a good thing can kill plants and not enough will not see any effect.  Also, of course, where you add the biochar and the particle size effect plant response. And of course there is soil type and water/wind/temperature effects.

As you all know we are having drought and heat waves and lots of fire and very smokey environment. One day 43C the next day 24C. It has been fascinating watching my plants that are all planted in soils with biochar, minerals, urine and worm juice cope with these conditions.  Mostly they have done well although productivity except for the Magadasca beans, green peppers and radicchio has been decreased.

I am building a biochar hanging garden that will be watered from 2 3300 litre tanks to alow me to grow during the hot/fire season.  

I have also found putting lump charcoal (2-3cm) in pots and adding compost over the charcoal helps seedlings to grow during these fluctuating temperatures.  So will be changing how I build my wicking beds to put lump charcoal in the bed above the reservoir.

So there is the art, the zen and then there is the science. 

Regards
Stephen


On Fri, Jan 3, 2020 at 8:49 AM Frank Strie <frank.strie@...> wrote:

Thank you Kelpie,
As always you are spot on with your points / response you just provided here.
I can confirm the chicken manure exercise, done similar and the pH dropped dramatically by co-composting poultry shed bedding that contained manure, pine sawdust and biochar.
I blend it with the same multi blade garden shredder that we use to crush the fresh biochar, works excellent!
My Blueberries and Raspberries and Strawberries are all responded well to the treatment, so do the 100+ Tomato plants of various verities and the Beet Roots, Asparagus … I could go on!
We sell our biochar for AUS$ 1500.- in 1m3 volume purchase to staged (according to bag size) up to AUS$8.-/ 1 litre bag, …
People love it and they show me their photos from their own results.
Like I suggested previously it is a systems approach combining regenerative management practices from the spot to the entire landscape. … The Carbon  Cascade my Chickens collaborate with me on that!
Cheers
Frank

 

From: main@Biochar.groups.io <main@Biochar.groups.io> On Behalf Of Kelpie Wilson
Sent: Thursday, January 2, 2020 4:46 PM
To: main@biochar.groups.io
Subject: Re: [Biochar] Where we stand with biochar in California 2020

 

Rick,

I don't know why anyone these days would use raw, uncharged biochar in a field trial in an alkaline soil. We know it is not a good idea. But to take it a step further, we need to be using biochar first to manage the other high nitrogen wastes that our society produces. The N cycle is even more out of whack than the C cycle and our biochar is the perfect ingredient for keeping N and P out of the environment where they do harm. Meanwhile, that N and P get combined with the biochar C to create slow release fertilizers. These are the biochar cascades that Albert Bates, Kathleen Draper and others have described so articulately. 

 

We struggle to manage mounds of manure, biosolids, food waste and other organic waste that is crying out for biochar. Let's focus on that first and then see if what we have is a good soil amendment. In most cases the answer will be yes.

 

Here's a little experiment that I did that anyone can try. I went to a local small egg producer and got 6 five gallon buckets of fresh, chicken poo with almost no bedding. I made 3 piles that started with 10 gallons of manure - one was plain manure, one had 25% biochar mixed in (my homemade, high T, high pH wood biochar) and one had 50% biochar. I let them sit for about a month and measured temperature in the piles. The one with the most biochar got the hottest, indicating more biological activity. The one with the most biochar also had the lowest pH at the end - near neutral. This shows that even though it had more of the highly alkaline char - 50% - the biological activity neutralized the alkalinity. 

 

Outside of a few extreme cases, there is no bad biochar, just biochar that was not used correctly.

 

Kelpie

 

--

Email: kelpiew@...
Mobile: 541-218-9890

Time zone: Pacific Time, USA
Skype: kelpie.wilson


Stephen Joseph
 


Also our research and my own experience has shown for most applications if you mineralise the surface of the wood biochar  by adding appropriate minerals and ash to the wood before pyrolysis you need less biochar and it is much more effective.

Many Beneficial micro-organisms love to live at the interface between the nanoparticulate minerals and carbon matrix.

If you engineer your biochar to meet soil constraints and boost existing farmer practice then you can increase return on investment

Regards
Stephen

On Thu, Jan 2, 2020 at 2:08 PM mikethewormguy via Groups.Io <mikethewormguy=aol.com@groups.io> wrote:
Rick,

Happy New Year....!

My sense is that if, as you say, that 50% of biochar trials did not work out well than there maybe an issue with the hypothesis question, the amount used, the success definition, or biochar was not the appropriate tool for the job......

In addition, there is the issue of using wood biochar, as a stand alone ingredient and expecting it to be the cure for all ills.  That is burdening wood biochar with too much responsibility for effect.

Farmers, like myself, see biochar as a long ball play.  Thus less used more often wins the day. 

The other issue is that as your soil becomes highly energized the response seen from the addition of any organic input will be more muted.  In this case, the soil is happy. Keep in mind that it takes many years to make happy soil. It takes time to turn the frown upside down.

For all of the applications that I use wood biochar in,  it is one ingredient among many.  It is the formulation that performs and not the biochar.

I only have 2 expectations from wood biochar....it takes up space and holds/delivers stuff.  Wood Biochar has never failed to meet these expectations for me......

In my humble opinion,  it is a steep hill to climb if one is trying to sell wood biochar, as a stand alone product, to an end user.

my 2 cents,

Mike











Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


mikethewormguy
 

Stephen

You may want to consider some form of clay pot irrigation in your hanging garden.

This irrigation approach works great with biochar.

Let me know if you want to try this approach.....

Mike



Sent from my Verizon, Samsung Galaxy smartphone


Norm Baker
 

I agree with Kelpie's comments.

Norm


Rick Wilson
 

Greta, Daniel,

Biochar, Clay soils. YES! Sodic Clay soils in particular.  Biochar has a huge potential here. Combined with adding gypsum (Calcium Sulfate). My #1 application for biochar in California. 
(versus Saline soils, not all salts are bad salts, but too much of anything turns out to be bad - think EC measure). 

What happens in a sodic clay soil is the bad salts (sodium), kick out the good salts (calcium and magnesium), which destroys the clay sheets - soil structure. 
The soil turns to "muck" and its hard to get it aerated, and the microbes need oxygen. 

A number biochar's tend to hold onto Calcium (and Magnesium), but have no impact on sodium.  

By adding biochar you add porosity, so now you can rinse out the"salts". Hold onto the good salts (Calcium and Magnesium), and then you can leach out the sodium.  Do a search on "Sodium Adsorption Ratio".  Once you get the ratio of bad to good salts low enough, the structure returns. Now the soil can get aerated, and mitigate plant salt stress. 

Composting biochar.  I run two compost R&D centers here in California for the major waste processors, and have made some biochar runs. What I have seen is is that co-composting with biochar produces a more stable compost (lower CO2 evolution).  So far I have not seen any benefit to nutrient content, water holding capacity, CEC.  We will be making six replicate runs with 6% by volume biochar starting in March, (with side-by-side controls) to further quantify the stability impact.  Will also be measuring yield, perhaps the compost pile ends up smaller - due to "positive carbon priming", which we know happens when you put biochar into the soil in the beginning, which then turns to negative. If you have any ideas on what else to test for (besides yield, nutrients, and stability), let me know we can add them to the tests. 

I believe high pH biochar put in an alkaline soil is not detrimental. But it's not going to reduce the pH of your soil either, reducing pH would increase nutrient availability, even if its just around the biochar particle. 

Please see the attached meta study by the USDA with shows the success/failure ratio of a number of biochar trials. 



On Wednesday, January 1, 2020, 01:09:27 PM PST, Greta Loeffelbein <spoonlegs@...> wrote:


Hey all,

Small-scale gardener here (we use a Pyramid Kiln), couple questions on this thread--

We have heavy clay soil, western Oregon.  Given, clay soil already has adequate cation exchange capacity (CEC).  But can't biochar benefit it by improving its tilth, aeration, fluffiness?  Is the extra CEC from biochar harmful somehow?

What is the advantage to using manure as a biochar feedstock--aren't most of the manure's nutrients lost that way?


On Jan 1, 2020, at 4:14 AM, Daniel Pidgeon <daniel.pidgeon@...> wrote:

Thank you Rick!

I heard of biochar for the first time about two years ago, when researching how to improve soils for people I volunteered with, who have nothing to be able to input. Biochar seemed to be the answer, with the right stove, or made using crop residue in the right retort or kiln instead of just burning it.

But in all that time, in all that reading, no-one has been so plain and clear that it is only 50% hit and miss for improving soil health and fertility benefits!!

My question is, is this the end of the story, for alkaline soils for instance? I realise clay has minimal benefit from biochar, vs. sandy soil. But is there benefit to alkaline sandy soils if, for instance, biochar is composted first? Or allowed to permeate in a compost tea or Korean Natural Farming solution or something? Or is it simply a matter of, if the soil is alkaline, then it is best to avoid biochar completely, and just use these methods on their own?

Or am I simply throwing the cat among the pigeons?

Daniel Pidgeon