Biochar Interest Heats Up in Horticulture.

A current horticulture Australia (HAL) review into the role that Biochar could play in the future of Australian horticulture is generating a lot of interest from potential users of the product.

According to Horticulturists surveyed recently, improved soil structure and increased soil microbe activity are regarded as two of the major benefits that can be expected using high carbon inputs such as Biochar.

A total of 46 growers from the vegetable, fruit, nut and nursery industries participated in the survey, with most of those located in NSW North Coast. While the total number of respondents was small, the survey has provided a useful snapshot of the views that growers have
about Biochar.

Most growers had used some form of organic amendment on their farm previously, with almost 90% using compost, while animal manure and woodchip were other carbon sources. Other sources of carbon sources included crop waste mulch, sugar cane and green manure
crops grown specifically for mulch. Eight growers have already experimented with Biochar. The ability to improve soil structure is regarded by most growers as the benefit of carbon, with nutrient and water retention, and a source of food for microbes seen as other important attributes. Soil borne disease was another benefit that growers recognise.

Looking at Biochar in particular, over 80% of growers were familiar with the potential benefits to horticulture, with most regarding its ability to reduce soil compaction and improve soil structure along with increasing soil microbe activity as reasons why they would invest in it. Surprisingly, the attribute of reduced and avoided greenhouse gas emissions was recognised by only 40% of respondents.

The HAL project is producing a book entitled “Biochar in horticulture-prospects for use of Biochar in Australian Horticulture”. Growers were asked about topics of interest and they included scientific studies on benefits, economics of Biochar use, and how to use it effectively.
The relevance of the information to the federal Governments Carbon Farming Initiative was not given a high profit by grower participants.

Over 80%of growers surveyed believe their industry should invest in Biochar research. There were some great suggestions made with some of  the more innovative ones including:

How best to balance Biochar with soluble fertilisers and other nutrient inputs

  • Will it improve soil microbial activity and crop yields/effects on biology in surrounding soil?
  • Comparisons between Biochar and compost and mitigating CO2 emissions versus long term fertility of the soil
  • Recycling organic waste and producing energy and reduced wastage in landfill
  • Small scale trials in the nursery environment
  • Conversion of biomass and green waste to Biochar from industry surplus and nursery waste.
  • Biochar for the home garden promoted through garden centres
  • Building an oven
  • Grass roots trials supported by Government
  • Producing Biochar with high NPK (nutrient) levels
  • Economics of Biochar use including cost/benefit analysis
  • Affordable production methods
  • Commercial co-production with council wastes
  • Increased disease suppression
  • Effects on biology in surrounding soil

The soon to be published book “Biochar in Horticulture-Prospects for use of Biochar in Australian Horticulture: Will provide the Australian horticultural industries with a comprehensive “stock take” of research and current knowledge on Biochar. Project leader Justine Cox from NSW DPI Wollongbar believes the publication will provide a great launching pad for HAL and those horticultural industries interested in investing research funds into Biochar.

As Justine explains “I was surprised with the overall levels of knowledge that growers showed in the Biochar survey. These growers have been taking advantage of the rapidly growing amount of information available and keeping up to date with research on Biochar. This book will enable growers to weigh up the science and decide for themselves what Biochar may contribute to their soils”.

This project has been funded by HAL as part of the across industry program. The Australian Government provides matched funds for all HAL’s R & D activities.

For more information contact Justine Cox, NSW DPI Wollongbar on 02 6626 1197