Improved soil condition, increased yields and reduced global warming are just three of the huge potential benefits of biochar, the residue obtained from burning biomass in a fire without oxygen.
Craig Sams of Carbon Gold, writing in the summer edition of the Vegan-Organic Network’s magazine Growing Green International, is clear about biochar’s future role: “We should minimise burning biomass and avoid feeding it to animals – turning it into biochar is our single most effective tool to reverse global warming.”
Sams explains how the addition of biochar to the soil can reduce the need for fertilisers and watering. As biochar stays permanently in the soil, it makes a contribution to carbon dioxide and methane reduction and reduces nitrate leaching, thus lowering emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.
Biochar is an exciting potential source of income for upland farmers who are struggling to make a living from livestock. Worldwide, more than half of farmland (6 billion hectares) is devoted to producing animal feed. If just 2 billion hectares converted to biochar production, it is estimated that 36 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be permanently removed from the atmosphere every year.
Sams calls for an end to government subsidies for meat producers, currently in the form of artificially cheap animal feeds and a lack of carbon accounting or carbon taxes. His company, Carbon Gold, is producing biochar from Soil Association-certified organic woodland waste and thinnings. Simple pyrolosis equipment for producing your own biochar is expected to be available in autumn 2009. See www.carbongold.com
The Vegan-Organic Network now has over 35 affiliated stockfree organic farmers and growers, half in the UK and the rest overseas, mainly in North America. With topics as varied as the importance of earthworms for soil structure, sensational seaweed and solar tractors, Growing Green International is a treasure trove of articles about stockfree growing around the world.