Forest Service fires up batch of biochar
NEBRASKA – The Nebraska Forest Service says the state has a wealth of untapped resources, including 41 million acres of standing wood biomass that could be converted into the charcoal-like biochar to improve soils.
Forest products specialist Heather Kingery said Nebraska is part of the Great Plains Biochar Initiative to add value to woody material that would otherwise be discarded as waste.
Kingery: “It’s a great opportunity to convert it to value instead of just letting it burn in a pile.”
Unlike ash, biochar is extremely porous and can improve soils by providing a structure for soil microbes to live in.
Kingery: “These microbes are essential for life and for quality soil health.”
Biochar also tends to pull nutrients from its surroundings and retains them. If biochar is pre-loaded with nutrients before it is added to the soil, plants can access the nutrients as they need them over time.
Ancient history suggests the value of biochar. People have added charred biomass to improve soils in the Amazon River basin for 2,000 years and Nebraskans have benefited from charred material left behind by uncountable prairie and wildfires.
Kingery: “Historically we see a lot of charcoals in our soils because of prairie fires, because of wildfires, but over the last several decades, maybe 100 years, between land use change and wildfire suppression the amount of charcoal and carbon material in our soils has really decreased.”
Kingery demonstrated a flame cap method for producing biochar as simple as a campfire, as well as a double-barrel method called retorts.
She said biochar can benefit farmers, ranchers, loggers, gardeners and anyone who wants to take advantage of biochar sales at farmers markets.
Kingery: “My dream is that we would have a thriving biochar industry in Nebraska with biochar producers and with every Nebraska household knowing what biochar is and how they can use it.”