Small scale field trials at the Universities of Nottingham and Bangor are well underway and are already producing interesting datasets. As well as these trials, despite the unusually dry weather and some biochar supply issues, five farmers applied biochar to one-hectare plots on their working farms this season. Rapidly becoming one of, if not the, biggest biochar trial in the UK. We’ve found Demonstrator farms with different soil textures and cropping systems and these farms together with more farms and farmers to be recruited over the next year when we have more biochar, form the backbone of the experimental agronomic aspects of the project. Participating farmers will continue to manage their land as normal and we’ll monitor the soils and crops in the treated area and corresponding unamended parts of the fields (control plots) to help us understand the effects of biochar in real-world arable and pasture settings.

One of our biggest questions this year was how to apply the biochar at scale on the Demonstrator farms. For those who haven’t seen or handled the biochar deployed by the Demonstrator, it looks similar to coarse ground coffee, but feels more like mature compost because it is shipped wet to minimise ignition risks during transport and to limit dust production upon application. We need not have worried because our participating farmers rose to the challenge and successfully applied the biochar using lime spreaders.

We also have forestry trials underway and more biochar deployment planned for the end of this year in preparation for spring tree planting next year. This leaves the Demonstrator on track to deploy 200 tonnes of biochar over the course of the project. Over the next four years, we will regularly sample the fields and forestry sites to measure any changes in soil chemistry and biology as well as crop yield, pasture and tree production.

Members of the project team are also keen to understand the perceptions and opinions of the farmers, contractors and suppliers involved in the trials and interviews will be conducted to explore attitudes toward biochar. To date, land managers and farmers have expressed interested in the project for various reasons including regenerative practices, potential for improving productivity, and conserving soil moisture. Also of interest is the hope that biochar will help farmers achieve net-zero goals and possibly form part of future carbon trading schemes. The Demonstrator will explore these questions, not only through the trials and experiments taking place, but also with our dedicated group exploring the life-cycle and economics of the technology.

This blog post was written by Biochar Demonstrator researchers from the University of Nottingham, Tom Bott and Helen West.