Explainer: What is carbon farming and the Emissions Reduction Fund?

PHOTO: Under carbon farming, Fairlight Station can get carbon credits worth millions. (Supplied: Cheree Callaghan)

As the pot of money for carbon farming projects runs out, ABC Rural explains what the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is and how agricultural projects have benefited.

What is the ERF auction?

The Emissions Reduction Fund is an allocation of $2.55 billion of Federal Government money to pay for carbon abatement projects.

The energy sector is not able to participate in the scheme.

The government is the only buyer, so it’s taxpayer money, not private sector finance, paying for the carbon credits.

The scheme works via a reverse auction system, so proponents put in their lowest bid of what they can afford to do for the price.

The first auction was held in April 2015 and there is $440 million remaining in the fund for the fifth auction.

So far, the ERF has bought contracts to abate 180 million tonnes of carbon for up to 10 or 20 years.

The results from the fifth ERF auction held on April 3 will be announced on April 13.

What projects have been winners?

Australia’s system of awarding carbon offsets for carbon farming is considered one of the highest quality, best regulated, and with the strongest legal backing of any carbon offsets in the world, according to the Climate Institute.

Avoided deforestation:

The first auction spent $660 million, with the majority going to a small area of drought-affected NSW.

Sixty per cent of the contracts were awarded to projects at Bourke and Cobar, in western New South Wales, where farmers committed to avoiding clearing native vegetation.

Since then, up to 115 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) has been contracted from landholders around Australia, fencing off native vegetation or creating new plantings.

Methane from piggeries:

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 23 times heavier than carbon dioxide.

By collecting methane off effluent dams and generating biogas, piggeries can power their sheds and sell electricity back to the grid.

So far, 11 piggeries have registered with the ERF, for $10.4 million, to abate 200,000 tonnes of CO2e.

This equates to 13.5 per cent of Australia’s pork being sourced from farms with biogas systems.

Piggeries with more than 500 sows can potentially save up to $5 on the cost of producing each pig.

Savanna burning:

Raging savanna fires contribute 4 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gases.

Savanna burning projects have won contracts for northern Australian Indigenous landowners and graziers, where mosaic burns are conducted in cooler months of January to June to reduce hot tropical fires.

Cattle, sheep producers:

Meat and Livestock Australia calculated that of the first three auctions, $1.7 billion spent by the ERF, landholders and red meat producers had won 65 per cent or $1.1 billion worth of contracts.

Since then there have been more.

The money largely went to projects for revegetation, avoided deforestation, pig methane offsets, soil carbon, and savannah burning.

Overall, the ERF has delivered timely income for farmers, generating $239 million annual revenue for landholders, according to the Australian Farm Institute.

Is the scheme flawed?

Economists argue many projects would have been done anyway as good business sense.

The price started higher, at $14 per tonne of carbon dioxide, when landholders in western NSW were big winners.

A handful of landowners fenced off native vegetation, protected it from feral animals and weeds, and secured 60 per cent of the first auction contracts, at least $300 million over 10 years.

Paul Burke, an environmental economist at the Australian National University, said it was an expensive way to buy carbon offsets that could have been done anyway, to make economic sense.

“Large sums of money, often many times the value of the land, have been awarded to projects for little effort,” Dr Burke said in September 2016.

Since then, the price for carbon has been pushed so low that other critics claim many seeking contracts find it is not worth their while.

Reputex, analysts of energy and emissions markets, said many contracts already secured were “stranded” seeking better carbon prices on the voluntary market overseas.

Why are greenhouse gas emissions still growing?

On current government figures, based on 2016 carbon dioxide levels, Australia’s emissions will grow by 10 per cent by 2030, to 592 million tonnes a year.

That is falling well short of the Paris commitment to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels over that time.

Analysts point to a lack of focus on energy, despite the closure of the Hazelwood power station in Victoria.

“While 80 per cent of Australia’s emissions come from burning fossil fuels, 80 per cent of the Government’s Emission Reduction Fund has been spent on land carbon sequestration,” Reputex stated.

In its 2016 report, the Climate Council said burning of Australian fossil fuels both here and overseas, produced 6.5 times as much carbon as the land can sequester.

“While storing carbon on land is useful for combating climate change, it is no replacement for reducing fossil fuel emissions,” Martin Rice and Will Steffen from the Climate Council said.

Eighty per cent of the money from ERF is dedicated to land emissions, which has managed to secure only three per cent abatement a year, while emissions from fossil fuels continue to contribute 75 to 80 per cent of our greenhouse gases.

Is there any more money?

Industries are closely watching the forthcoming Federal budget to deliver more money for landholders to sequester carbon.

A Federal review of climate change policy was released on March 27 this year. A six-week public consultation period is open until May 5.

The review states that Australia’s commitment to the Paris climate change agreement of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030.

It expects Australians will halve their emissions, per capita, and energy intensity will be reduced by two thirds.

A statement from Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg gave no indication there was any consideration for more money in the budget. The statement said the government’s climate policy was under review.

“The government is committed to adopting a non-ideological approach to emissions reduction to ensure we secure the lowest cost of abatement,” the statement said.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the contributors of the ABC Australia and was retrieved on 04/16/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. Please cite the original source accordingly.


Using tropical microbes to improve the environment

Source: Phsy.org, 2017. Researchers found that bioencapsulated brine shrimp larvae (pictured) provide a level of disease protection to a commonly eaten fish in Asia, called climbing perch. Credit: Napat Polchoke / 123rf Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-04-tropical-microbes-environment.html#jCp

Researchers in Malaysia are harnessing properties in tropical microbes to address a variety of environmental, agricultural and aquacultural issues.

Dr. Adeline Ting Su Yien and her colleagues at Monash University’s School of Science are investigating the highly diverse genetic pool of tropical microbes for crop improvement; disease control in agriculture and in aquaculture; the removal of toxic metals and dyes from the environment; and accelerating waste recycling.

“The general idea is to tap into the diversity of microbes in the tropics, as we are a region rich with various microbial species,” explains Ting. “We emphasize the use of novel groups of microbes, such as the indigenous microflora of the fish gut system, endophytes [fungi that live in plants] and non-white rot fungi for applications.”

The team has discovered, for example, that native bacteria in fish guts have the potential to be used as probiotics to protect other fish grown in aquaculture against diseases.

Brine shrimp larvae are commonly used as fish feed and are therefore the most appropriate vector for delivery of probiotics. The researchers isolated and cultured the bacterium Lactococcus lact is from catfish and treated brine fish larvae with a suspension of the bacteria, a process known as ‘bioencapsulation’. The larvae were investigated and found to have a higher nutritional quality compared to larvae that weren’t bioencapsulated with the bacteria. The team then fed the bioencapsulated brine shrimp larvae to a commonly eaten fish in Asia called climbing perch and found it offered the a level of disease protection.

Using tropical microbes to improve the environment
Formulations made with strains of Streptomyces bacteria found in soil had antibacterial and antifungal properties that could be used to protect banana crops from the fungal-borne Panama wilt disease. Credit: Anont Wongfun / 123rf

The team also found that formulations made with strains of Streptomyces bacteria commonly found in soil had antibacterial and antifungal properties that could be used to protect banana crops from the fungal-borne Panama wilt disease. Plants can also be protected from wilt disease by extracting organisms—called endophytes—that live in plants to ‘pre-colonize’ other target plants.

In another study, the researchers extracted common fungi from river sediments, indoor wastewater, and plants to use in the removal of and dyes from the environment. For example, they extracted the common fungus Trichoderma asperellum from the Penchala River in Kuala Lumpur and found it had the potential to remove triphenylmethane dyes (used extensively in the textile, leather, food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and paper industries) from the water.

The Monash University researchers also isolated a filamentous bacterium called Actinomycete from empty fruit bunches of oil palms. They found that these bacteria could be used to accelerate the composting process of these empty fruit bunches, in addition to being used as biocontrol agents against Ganoderma boninense, a serious pathogen of the oil palm.

The team next plans to look for bioactive compounds produced by endophytes living in medicinal plants. “Our preliminary studies show endophytes from medicinal are highly diverse and have good antimicrobial and antioxidant properties,” says Ting. The researchers will also further develop the microbes identified in their studies for potential use in large-scale settings.

Using tropical microbes to improve the environment
The fungus from the Penchala River in Kuala Lumpur has the potential to remove dyes in the textile, leather, food, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and paper industries from water. Credit: Anirut Rassameesritrakool / 123rf

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the contributors of the Phys.org and was retrieved on 04/11/2017 and posted at INDESEEM for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. Please cite the original source accordingly.

Precision Agriculture Eats Data, CPU Cycles: It’s A Perfect Fit For Cloud Services

Historical Corn Grain Yields for Indiana and the U.S. - Corny News Network (Purdue University).clipular

Although precision agriculture is an important tool for feeding a growing planet while minimizing environmental damage, the motivation for farmers is less altruistic. According to Eduardo Barros, Accenture’s Global Products Agri-business Lead, data-driven decisions about irrigation, fertilization and harvesting can increase corn farm profitability by $5 to $100 per acre. Barros adds that a 6-month pilot study found precision agriculture improved overall crop productivity by 15%. It seems like a no-brainer for farmers if not for the nasty implementation details: new sensors and equipment for granular data measurement, data collection, integration with third-party data sources like weather models and satellite imagery, and number-crunching data analysis to produce recommendations. While not insurmountable hurdles for big corporate farms, the technology requirements and expertise are beyond the reach of smaller farmers, particularly in developing countries. Enter cloud services: the same technology equalizer that allows two-person startups to develop software using hundreds of servers can deliver sophisticated agricultural analytics to the family farm.

By combining aspects of IoT and big data, precision agriculture has a lot in common with burgeoning analytics applications in many other industries. The need for prodigious data collection, from many sources, associated storage and computational horsepower makes it a great fit for cloud services. Not only do shared services broaden the available market for precision agriculture, but the cloud enables agricultural crowdsourcing, by aggregating data from a wide variety of smaller operations to improve prediction models.

Source: Accenture

The field has already attracted the attention of big companies like IBM, which has researchers working on agricultural weather forecasts, models and simulations to improve farm decisions, and Accenture, along with a host of startups as profiled in this Forbes column. Yet farming is a hands-on activity and many of the measurements that feed precision agriculture models require instruments and implementation expertise that small farmers don’t possess. That’s why Accenture has segmented its offering into two services: one for large agribusiness with the necessary equipment and sophistication to use a pure SaaS product and another for small operations, particularly in developing countries, that rely on an agricultural version of the channel: agro-service agents that work directly with individual farmers. In this case, Accenture’s software provides decision support for companies that already sell a range of agricultural products like seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. Barros says Accenture’s software can even integrate with ERP and HR systems to automate orders and schedule field workers.

Source: Accenture

An important similarity between precision agriculture and broader trends in business software is the use of location services. Of course, farms are inherently tied to location, making agriculture a natural early adopter of GPS services, such as fertilizer spreaders that can apply different amounts according to location, and autonomous vehicles. Drones represent the next frontier for data collection (field imagery) accuracy and frequency and perhaps product application (fertilizer, herbicides). Just like an array of equipment sensors in a power plant or aircraft, all of this fine-grained location data can feed analytic models, however as with industrial IoT, the amount of data can be overwhelming, reinforcing the case for cloud deployment.

Source: Prof. dr. ir. Josse De Baerdemaeker Department of Biosystems Division MeBioS KULeuven, Belgium

Although Barros didn’t discuss Accenture’s implementation specifics, given the amount of data collected and the episodic nature of model calculations, precision agriculture software is a great fit for IaaS platforms like AWS or Google Cloud. With a variety of services like NoSQL plus Hadoop data analysis and HPC compute grids, including support for GPU instances by AWS for parallelized number crunching, cloud infrastructure is an ideal way to develop precision agriculture software and deliver packaged services to customers like small farmers with few IT investments and little expertise.

Although relatively small, one estimate shows the precision agriculture market growing at over 13% per year hitting $3.7 billion by 2018, with the rate in emerging markets expected to exceed 25%. According to an investment bank report on precision agriculture, “The entire industry is realizing that a key value driver in the development of precision agriculture is data — collecting it, analyzing it, and using it.” Although data collection will remain a local problem, shared cloud services can accelerate the analysis and lower the barriers to farmers needing actionable intelligence. Precision agriculture will be an interesting field to monitor for both technological advancements and investment opportunities.

This article was published on Forbes in the section on Tech on August 25, 2o15 and was retrieved on September 4, 2015 and reposted for educational and information purposes.

Biochar: Black Gold or Just Another Snake Oil Scheme?




In an interview with Naomi Klein, published in the Autumn 2013 issue of Earth Island Journal, she referred to the American fondness for “win-win solutions.” I had to giggle, having on many occasions sat in on industry-led events, where the speakers, wildly animated, blather on about their latest “win-win-win” technofix, certain to resolve everything that ails humanity, from climate change to poverty, to deforestation to toxic pollution to nuclear waste. Who could be against such hopeful, all-in-one miracle cures?  Perhaps only the skeptics who know the smell of snake oil. Which, I guess, includes me.


Photo by potaufeu/flickrField trail results fly in the face of repeated claims that biochar will sequester carbon in soils for
tens, hundreds or even thousands of years.

I came to such deep skepticism not by nature but from years of experience. One formative experience has been following the hype around biochar. Biochar enthusiasts are a hopeful bunch. They claim that charred biomass will be a win for climate, a win for soils and crop yields, hence a win against hunger and poverty, and a win for renewable energy generation. They are convinced that burning “biomass,” that is, trees, crop residues, animal manure or what have you, (some even advocate burning garbage ortires), could solve our energy, food, and climate woes.

Right away, there is good reason to be skeptical. Burning anything at all seems an unlikely cure for an overheating planet. No matter how it is done, or what is burned, combustion creates pollution — air pollution, particulates, ashes, various toxins and soot, the second largest warming agent after C02. Nonetheless, there are many who embrace biochar and specifically advocate burning things under oxygen starved conditions, via process called pyrolysis, to maximize the production of charred residues. Biochar, they claim, is “black gold.”


The first key “win” of biochar, proponents say, is that if buried in the ground, the char, which consists largely of carbon, will more or less permanently “sequester” that carbon and therefore help to cleanse the atmosphere. In an article published in the journal, Nature, some of the leading biochar enthusiasts claimed that it could offset global greenhouse gas emissions by a whopping 12 percent annually. All that would be required is collecting most forest and agriculture residues and animal manures from across the globe, as well as converting over half a billion hectares (an area larger than India) of land to producing dedicated burnable crops. After collecting it, the biomass would be transported to pyrolysis facilities, burned, then the char would be collected and transported back around the globe where it would be tilled and buried into soils over millions of acres. Year after year.

The problem with this idea isn’t just the massive scale of the project, for which there seems little social or political will. It is even more fundamental: There is really little basis for assuming that biochar carbon really will store carbon reliably in soils. A Biofuelwatch review of peer-reviewed field trials as of 2011 showed some remarkably unimpressive results. We only looked at peer-reviewed field trials in order to distinguish clearly between hype and actual results, and to discern how biochar acts in the real world, with living biodiverse soils, rather than sterile, laboratory conditions. Field trails proved rare; only five such studies were found, which between them tested biochar on 11 different combinations of soil and vegetation. In only three cases did biochar result in any additional carbon sequestration. In most cases, there was either no measurable difference in soil carbon, or even a reduction in soil carbon. These results from short-term studies —none spanned more than four years — fly in the face of repeated claims that biochar will sequester carbon in soils for tens, hundreds or even thousands of years.


Photo by crustmania/flickrBiochar enthusiasts claim it can improve the quality of the soil and hence improve crop yields and
thereby help reduce desertification and deforestation,

More recently, two important reviews (you can read themhere and here) of soil carbon showed that the stability of soil carbon is not so much determined by the molecular structure of the carbon itself, but rather by surrounding soil ecosystem properties. That makes reliable carbon storage very difficult to predict or assume.

Win number two, biochar enthusiasts claim, is that biochar will also improve the quality of the soil and hence improve crop yields, thereby help reduce desertification, deforestation, hunger, and poverty. Again, Biofuelwatch’sreview of peer reviewed field trials showed unimpressive and erratic results. Since then, a recent synthesis review of impact on crop yields found that in half of published studies, there was either no effect whatsoever on crop yields, or biochar actually reduced yields.

The third win, according to advocates, is generating renewable electricity and heat during pyrolysis. But so far, virtually all biochar has been produced without doing so. That’s because pyrolysis is difficult to control and remains largely unproven for commercial application. Another reason is the inherent trade off: If you want more biochar less biomass will be converted to heat and power, and vice versa.

None of these trial results have dampened the hopes of biochar enthusiasts, who still see wins everywhere they look. They continue to promote biochar as a means to reduce fertilizer demand, agricultural runoff, clean up waste water, reclaim mine sites, and offset fossil fuel pollution. Some have even advocated feeding it to cows to make them emit less gas, and one company even claims that biochar will make it possible for consumers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions even while driving big gas-guzzling cars. (see below).

In her Journal interview Klien also spoke about climate geoengineering, which she referred to as a proverbial “escape hatch” providing a way to avoid the consequences of our failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is indeed one of the most perilous hazards of the geoengineering mindset. Widespread doubts about geoengineering have resulted in a push to accept “more benign” technologies, including large-scale biochar and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Both biochar and BECCS require burning lots of biomass — trees and crops, as well as municipal solid waste. Staggering quantities would have to be harvested and burned to have any measureable impact on the global atmosphere. Studies have shown that capturing just one billion tonnes of carbon per year would require conversion of up to 990 million hectares of land to plantations. The consequences for land, water, soils, biodiversity, would very likely render the treatment worse than the disease.

What is already painfully evident is that demand for biomass, even at the current smaller scale is already stripping Earth of her remaining biodiverse ecosystems, and replacing them with industrial, chemically-dependent monoculture deserts.

Another article in the Journal’s recent issue, “Modified Stands,” talks about the push for genetically engineered trees. The impetus behind GE trees is a projected dramatic increase in demand for wood, in large part for bioenergy. This demand is a result of subsidies and supports for renewable energy that fail to distinguish between the kind of renewable energy that requires constant inputs of fuel (wood etc) and combustion, and the kind that does not. The lion’s share of subsidies and supports has gone to bioenergy, including biofuels and biomass burning for electricity, which can conveniently be done 24/7 in coal plants, or stand alone facilities. Windmills and solar panels are more fussy, expensive, and their production cycles are intermittent.

To get a sense of the scale and impact of using bioenergy, consider that in the United Kingdom alone, current and proposed biomass burning for energy would require over 80 million tons of wood, more than eight times the amount of wood produced for all purposes domestically. There is now an expanding international trade in wood chips and pellets to satisfy this voracious demand from the UK and other European countries. Tree plantations and native forests in the southeastern United States and Canada are being cut, pelletized and shipped to Europe to be burned as “renewable energy.” The wood pellet industry is booming, and fast growing monoculture plantations — which could soon include GE trees, are in great demand.

Biochar enthusiasts usually insist they won’t cut forests or convert ecosystems to provide burnable biomass. Just like the biomass electricity industry, they prefer to talk about burning “wastes and residues.” But there is no such thing as “waste” in a forest ecosystem — all is recycled, via decay, to support regeneration and regrowth. In many places, definitions of waste have been expanded to include virtually any wood that is not valued as sawlogs, so timber harvests are more intense and destructive. In agriculture, there are often better options for residues, such as compost, mulch, animal fodder, and bedding. In any case, industrial forestry and agriculture practices have already wreaked havoc on ecosystems. Creating a market for the waste products of unsustainable practices hardly seems a step in the right direction.



Photo by Engineering for ChangeA biomass briquette. There is an inherent trade off between using biomass to produce biochar
vs using it to produce energy: If you want more biochar less biomass will be converted
to heat and power, and vice versa.

So far, biochar has not gained the subsidies and investments needed to scale it up commercially. Biochar advocates initially worked to gain funding from carbon markets, arguing that biochar could “offset” fossil fuel pollution, but with the recent decline of global carbon markets they have largely retreated seeking carbon financing. Instead, they are now pushing biochar as a niche product for small-scale and organic farmers.
The good news is that most small-scale farmers are closely attuned to what works on their farms and will judge for themselves. The bad news is that they are largely unaware that they are to some extent being used to promote an eventual massive scale-up of the  biochar industry.

In 2008-09, for example, a high-profile biochar project in Cameroon run by Biochar Fund, a Belgian nonprofit, promised to alleviate poverty and improve nutritional status of poor farmers by improving crop yields. The farmers donated land and labor, and were told they would be compensated with finance from carbon markets. The first set of trials were proclaimed wildly successful without any independent verification. Then the trials were abandoned without even informing the farmers. Biochar Fund moved on and was granted funds for yet another set of trials in Congo. This time the claim was that biochar would enable slash and burn agriculturalists to do less slashing and burning because the soils would be enriched with biochar. So far, there are no reports of the status of those trials. (Read Biofuelwatch’s investigative report about the Cameroon project here.)

Just as with biomass electricity, biochar enthusiasts claim that burning biomass is “carbon neutral” – that the carbon released during combustion will be reabsorbed by new trees or crops. This claim has been soundly and repeatedly refuted. Trees take years to regrow, assuming that they even do so. Cutting natural forests for biomass electricity, or biochar, or any other use results in a massive “carbon debt” that can take decades or even centuries to repay (i.e. for an equivalent amount of carbon to be reabsorbed in new tree growth). Biochar advocates continue to cling to the carbon neutral myth nonetheless. In fact, they take it a step further. Burying the carbon char in soils, they say, will permanently store some of the carbon, so regrowth will absorb additional (not just replacement) carbon. This, they say, makes it carbon negative.

This misguided logic is what lies behind claims by companies like Cool Planet that consumers can clean the atmosphere by driving more. The California-based biofuel and biochar company seeks to make transportation fuels from wood, which they say is “carbon neutral,” and then bury the char residue from their production process, thus renderning the entire process “carbon negative.” By Cool Planet’s logic, driving more could actually reduce carbon emissions. That kind of “win” has an especially outstanding appeal. Cool Planet has won significant corporate backing from BP, ConocoPhillips, General Electric, and Google among others, and is now looking at opening two new facilities in Louisiana.

The logical conclusion for biomass electricity or biochar, from a purely carbon accounting perspective is that we should burn things that grow faster and therefore incur a shorter “carbon debt.” GE eucalyptus perhaps?  Clearly it is not very helpful to reduce the whole affair of climate change to counting carbon molecules. Forests, soils, ecosystems all are far more than agglomerations of carbon. They are intricate, multidimensional, interconnected, and complex beyond our imaginings and hence beyond our ability to measure, manipulate, and control.

The reductionist mindset that carbon accountants engage with is a dead end that only serves to blind us to the full scope and range of Earth as a whole. It fails to see that this planet is more than the sum of its parts. If we are really serious about preserving life on Earth, we will have to relearn how to envision the whole, embrace humility in the face of our ignorance about how life-supporting earth systems work. No amount of biochar, no climate geoengineering tricks, no technofixes or markets or “private sector engagement” or fancy carbon accounting will be a “win win win” for us. By far the winning strategy would be to allow Earth to restore, regenerate and recover, on her own terms.

Rachel Smolker 
Rachel Smolker is codirector of Biofuelwatch and a climate justice activist. She has a Ph.D. in biology from the University of Michigan, and worked previously as a field zoologist.



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Tried reading the articles regarding the Good & Bad information on Bio Char.

I will this Spring Inoculate some Bio Char with some Steer Manure and a little Soil Amendment.  I do this as I have been unsuccessful in growing Tomatoes the past 3 years. After all living in the most productive Agricultural area of the world one should be able to grow LOWLY TOMATOES.  I put my lack of success down to the lack of life in the Soil.
If I succeed I hope to post a rewrite later in the summer as to my success or failure.

By Philip Treanor on Sat, March 14, 2015 at 11:15 am

I first took an interest in biochar six years ago, and as it did not appear to be commercially available, decided to have a go at making my own.  I had a small supply of wood shavings available, and have tried three different methods of making it.  My current method does leave some shavings uncharred, but this will compost in the garden.  Its use Is in raised beds totalling 16 sq.meters. All beds had been newly formed.  In the first year there seemed little change in crop performance, then l realised that the biochar was probably absorbing nutrients from the soil.  All additions over the next 5 years was immersed in various solutions of liquid fertiliser.  This year has been my best crop ever. e.g runner beans over a trench of biochar produced a larger crop from a shorter row (reduced by 10%).  Total amount of biochar in the beds would probably equal about 2.5 per cent.  I look at soil as if it is a community of all sorts of life forms.  The first year of adding biochar was bit like adding a factory building but no machinery or workers.  after that workers and machinery were added and production was started and improved year on year.  Garlic and shallots showed little difference, but maybe the biochar used could develops to their specific needs.  But that now starts to ask more questions than give answers.  Developing specialist areas; would that increase disease risks.  Just as an example.  newly

By Alan Free on Thu, December 18, 2014 at 2:41 pm

This article is misleading. It also distorts genuine information to add impact to the authors point of view. It should be pointed out that the whole reason Biochar is on the scene at all is because of the amazonian terra preta. These anthropogenic (human made) soils have been around (and quite fertile) for a few thousand years. and the carbon is stable in these soils for reasons we still don’t understand. Much like how the recipe for cement was lost when the dark ages hit only to be discovered again in the 18th century. The biochar initiative began as a hopeful way to recreate the terra preta and all it’s beneficial properties. Unfortunately capitalism is getting in the way and biochar is becoming this poster child for soil improvements when in fact it is

biochar + compost + ??? + ??? = Terra Preta Nova

We still don’t know the recipe, and it’s incredibly difficult to reverse engineer a 2500 year old anthropogenic soil. So yes when the haters of biochar talk about how it doesn’t work they are right. it doesn’t work BY IT”S SELF. Just like you can’t put wheat stalks in the oven and expect to get bread.

By Nick Avila on Mon, November 10, 2014 at 8:01 am

Sorry that I did not find this article nearly a year ago when it came out.  As one who has been doing research on this subject since 2009, I must say that much of your imformation has been somewhat sensationalistic and misleading.  There is much research going on and I realize that journalist often have little time to get into something in any real way, and given that I think that your attitude is somewhat arrogant.  It is evident that you do not understand what is meant by “neutral carbon”  Our problems with climate change and carbon buildup in the atmosphere are due almost solely from carbon that is not neutral, in other words fossil fuels (coal and oil) that was sequestered in the ground 300 Million years ago in the Carbonacious period.  Carbon dioxide released from plants in our own time will be resequestered in new growth.  Any botanist can tell you that.  That’s just one example of your miscomprehension.  If you decide to get serious and do some real research on the matter, I think that you will come up with a quite different out come

By J. E. Bush on Sat, August 09, 2014 at 3:42 pm

I dug charcoal into my vegi garden and was able to get 3 crops of carrots ,1 after the other without adding any chemical or organic fertilizer. The best part was the taste, usually organic grown food will taste earthy but not when charcoal was add , all you taste is the vegetable. Everyone i gave them to couldn’t believe the taste. You really need to do your home work as mass biochar producers capture the creosote and paraffin oil that is a byproduct of producing charcoal and doesn’t go into the atmosphere.

By Richo on Wed, June 25, 2014 at 1:18 am

In your article you claim “Burning anything at all seems an unlikely cure for an overheating planet. No matter how it is done, or what is burned”.

Are you suggesting that flaring methane from a piggery has no value even though it converts the gas from a 21x CO2e into a 1xCO2e.

Perhaps you need to reconsider using hysterical generalisations

By Greg Butler on Tue, October 29, 2013 at 6:47 pm

That EOE link stopped working without subscribing, So here is the official Umass platform;

Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future

By Erich J. Knight on Fri, September 27, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Dear Pip,
Narrow Minded??, did you not read what Char does for Composting?, That they are tracking down the ill effects that GMO forages and RoundUp has on enteric microbiology? Given Ms Smolker’s dire concerns about GMO’s, I wonder why she disparages this important tool for remediation.

All the long term field trials you seek are in my citations, along with the broader implication to cool the planet, in my upcoming Umass presentation;

“Agricultural Geo-Engineering: Past, Present & Future”
posted at The Encyclopedia of Earth;

By Erich J. Knight on Fri, September 27, 2013 at 4:10 pm

I am still studying, but feel correct preparation and utilisation of charcoal in soils has merit, perhaps mainly by acting as a ‘refuge’ for micro-organisms within the soil. The fine pore structure denies entry to both predators and grazers, allowing a reserve of soil improving bacteria and fungi to survive which can then re-populate and colonise soils after adverse conditions. Restoring biological activity to soils will then stimulate the formation of stable humic and fulvic acids and colloids which stably store carbon.

By Susannah Batstone on Fri, September 27, 2013 at 8:01 am

Of increasing concern is the effects of biochar introduction into the habitats of micro soil fauna – little research has been carried out thus far and that which has is proving to be inconclusive and on occasion detrimental due to the myriad of systems involved all of which need to be studied also. It is very much on a par with pesticides in so far that heavy lobbying (biochar articles always seem to attract trolls who point to research that is far too narrow minded) is pushing the product way before the practitioners on the ground are ready for it – as with deforestation the intention is simply to profit before we realise what is actually there and how beneficial it is. As some in France, Italy and elsewhere are realising the terroir systems or landscape approach is paying well and has remained untouched by fluctuating markets with a steady increase in profit for the last 30 years and more – careful soil protection is the key to this profit. Any significant population changes in soil fungi or fauna betray a reality that the soil itself is becoming more fragile – why would we want to accelerate this in anyway?

By Pip Howard on Fri, September 27, 2013 at 7:37 am

Biologically structured Carbons from Biomass; Charcoal, Plant-Coal, the elemental Carbon of the basic plant cell structure, is the pyrolitic Carbon which has held my interest for the past seven years.  A renown New Zealand climate scientist, the late, Dr. Peter Read coined the term “Biochar” for charcoal used in the soil and calculated the soil carbon building potentials to draw-down CO2e. This term embraced has made Google filtering to follow the exponential rates of publications in the last few years a simple task.

Animal feed supplements, as practiced by the European and Japanese, allow this Black Revolution for agriculture to be fermented by our livestock. In the EU, 90% of the Biochar produced is passed through livestock before composting and field application. On Swiss Farms they have eliminated manure odor and closed the nutrient loop by retaining Nitrogen in Char/Compost.  Dr. Ron Leng have shown cattle fed char reduced enteric methane emissions 40%, enhancing feed conversion 25%!, this has to be one the greatest advances in bovine nutrition in the last few decades

The Delinat Institute’s Ithaka Journal;
The use of biochar in cattle farming

By Erich J. Knight on Wed, September 25, 2013 at 7:59 pm

That’s strange. I never heard of the carbon sequestration of biochar, or using it to add organic fertilizer to the soil. What I know of biochar is that it acts like an activated carbon filter. The same stuff used in air and water filtration. I didn’t hear that mentioned at all. As far as I know if a tree falls in the forest and breaks down slowly over time with fungi and microbes doing all the work to make nutrients available is how nature has done this for billions of years. I’m sorry but burning trees, rubbing them with organic fertilizer, and then burrying them is not any answer to our co2 problem. If you want to filter small amounts of water to make it drinkable, that’s all I know is practical for biochar

By Daniel on Wed, September 25, 2013 at 8:27 am

My issue with the term “bio-char” is it is NOT defined. Most of the time people use the term to mean pyrolized wood/waste whereas “bio-char” has a VERY specific meaning. Bio-char is pyrolized cellulistic waste in a char form, that has been steam quenched and then LOADED with LIFE!

Char is NOT bio-char. I have seen some few trials where TRUE bio-char is added to intensive vegetable production at rates of around 1000#/acre. Not 10 tons per acre of sterile char, with no compost or time for the soil to adjust to the char.

It’s way past time to conduct REAL trials using fully loaded bio-char, complete with trace minerals and organic NPK. Ideally, you want to quench the char with trace mineral laden steam and then compost the char using some form of organic fertilizer, such as Mighty Grow Organics 3-3-3 with trace minerals and beneficial microbes. Or a good quality compost with additional NPK can be used.

I don’t have a financial dog in this hunt, other than as the manufacturer of an organic fertilizer. I do not sell bio-char, but I am using it in trials at my production facility in Alabama.

Good luck growing from a man outstanding in his field.

By Michael on Fri, September 20, 2013 at 12:06 pm

You’re right, I think it’s easy to latch onto an idea and get carried away with the idea that might fix everything. That type of thinking is tempting, but it just doesn’t address the real problems that we have.

In terms of biochar, I think there’s a lot of enthusiasm, but the boots on the ground efforts are looking a lot more stubbornly realistic and practical than your article implies.

I see biochar as something we generate as a byproduct of a healthy renewable energy system. It’s expensive to make and I think we should use it strategically. There’s great research being done that shows that it adsorbs (sticks to metals) and can be used in stormwater filters to keep zinc from roofs out of rivers, and along our roadways to keep copper from brake pads of cars out of our waterways.

Biochar is best agriculturally where it latches onto rainwater and organic fertilizers, and makes that water and nutrient source available to plants. That means that farmers can use less water and fertilizer, and their plants will survive drought conditions. In New Zealand they noticed that biochar sprinkled on cow pasture keeps excess nitrogen from filtering into waterways. I see a lot of potential for biochar, as a part of improving existing farming practices, to help us keep expensive fertilizers in the root zones of plants, and away from the Gulf of Mexico. That would be a gain for the farmers and for our ecosystem.

These are big problems, and there aren’t easy answers. Sustainability and bringing our ecosystems back into balance are important issues, and to the extent that we can do that intelligently with natural materials, I think we should try.

By Erin Rasmussen on Wed, September 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Biochar production does NOT burn the elemental carbon in Biomass. Only the Hydro-Carbons, Syn-Gas & Bio-Oils.

The exponential growth of biochar studies proves that Ms Smokler has not done her homework, and has cherry picked the studies that serve her agenda.

The Accounting of soil carbon as the base measurement of sustainability and aligning incentives to get a farmer paid for his good works, is where all carbon markets should grow from. The farmer will always have the lowest cost system for sequestration of carbon and it is about time that the carbon markets recognize that as their very foundations. A foundation far more secure than any other market.

We need every molecule of CO2,(over 350PPM), returned to the Soil.

The cascade of ecological services resulting in increased NPP, with increased cloud forming aerosols emitted from leaves & soil fungi cool the planet while we feed off the Agricultural bounty.

Husbandry of of the vast soil microbiom, to do the heavy lifting of Climate remediation, is the best way forward. All political persuasions agree; Building Soil Carbon is Good.

Please review;

Agricultural Geo-Engineering; Past, Present & Future

Erich J. Knight
Shenandoah Gardens
1047 Dave Berry Rd. McGaheysville, VA. 22840

Policy & Community Committee Chair,
2013 North American Biochar Symposium

By Erich J. Knight on Wed, September 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm

MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security

Disclaimer: This post is a re-blog for the purposes of information dissemination to a much wider audience and cultural diversity with the interest and focus to share ideas, knowledge and expertise in science, education, climate change, agriculture, etc. The opinion, ideas and content expressed in this particular post remains the owner of the original authors and publisher. Please cite the appropriate sources accordingly. Thanks

A new program at the university of Galway, Ireland, is aimed at students who want to combine scientific and social or policy skills to better understand and make significant contributions to climate adaptation and mitigation in agriculture and food security.

Application deadline: NUI Galway does not set a deadline for receipt of applications (with some exceptions). Offers will be issued on a continuous basis. Candidates are encouraged to apply as early as possible.

The world’s climate is rapidly changing due to global warming, and will continue to do so for the decades and centuries ahead. This poses major challenges for future agricultural systems to provide food and other bioresources for the 9 billion people that will occupy the planet by 2050.

The new MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) provides students with the skills and tools for developing agricultural practices, policies and measures addressing the challenge that global warming poses for agriculture and food security worldwide.

Graduates of this programme will be equipped to pursue roles associated with local, national and international efforts to promote sustainable agricultural production, global food security and climate change adaptation.There is now a growing recognition of how different agriculture systems can contribute to climate change, past and present. Hence, the dual challenge of adapting future agricultural systems to climate change, must also include mitigation of the effects of agriculture on climate change.

The new MSc in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is aimed at students who want to combine scientific, engineering, technical, social or policy skills so that they are better equipped to understand and make significant contributions regarding adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts on global agriculture and food security.

Minimum requirements: NQAI Level 8 honours degree or equivalent to a minimum standard of Second Class Honours, Grade 1 or equivalent in an appropriate discipline
Duration: 1 year
Next Start Date: September 2014
Contact information/Enquiries:
Dr Edna Curley, Programme Co-ordinator | Tel: +353 91 494 158 |
Prof. Charles Spillane, Head of Discipline of Botany & Plant Science | Tel: +353 91 494 148 | Email: charles.spillane@nuigalway.ie

Wheat Initiative launches its Strategic Research Agenda

Wheat Initiative launches its Strategic Research Agenda

on Tuesday, 28 July 2015. Posted in Press releases


July 27, 2015 – Paris (France)

To meet the expected 60% raise in demand for wheat by 2050, coordination of research and significant investments are needed to increase wheat sustainable production globally. The Wheat Initiative presented today its Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) to the G20 Agricultural Chief Scientists gathered in Turkey.

Wheat is a staple food worldwide and provides 20% of all calories and protein, both in developed and in less developed countries. However, between 1998 and 2013, demand exceeded production every other year. Hence, all wheat producing countries share an urgent need to increase yield potential, protect wheat from yield losses due to pests and diseases, maintain yield under highly variable climatic conditions and increase the sustainability of wheat production systems, so that enough wheat with adequate quality is produced. This will only be achieved if resources and capabilities are built to support cutting-edge research, breeding and agronomy in wheat and through knowledge exchange and capacity building in the wheat research global community.

To answer these challenges, the Wheat Initiative SRA identifies key research priorities for the short, medium and long term. It also lists outstanding game-changers that will revolutionise wheat breeding in the future, including: the availability of a fully assembled and annotated wheat reference genome sequence, the accessibility to wheat scientific data and analysis tools via a dedicated information system, the creation of new combinations of desirable alleles through new breeding techniques.

Hélène Lucas, International Scientific Coordinator of the Wheat Initiative explains:
“The Wheat Initiative Strategic Research Agenda identifies research priorities that should be tackled at the international level through integrated or coordinated action. It provides a framework for public and private researchers, funders and policy-makers to work together and answer the challenge to sustainably increase wheat production and contribute to global food security”.

Steve Visscher, BBSRC Deputy Chief Executive and Chair of the Wheat Initiative Institutions’ Coordination Committee, adds: “The Wheat Initiative will create a dialogue among its members to define the initial priorities. The Institutions’ Coordination Committee will identify and develop a portfolio of mechanisms to facilitate the effective delivery of the SRA, including encouragement of active research collaborations, alignment of national, regional and company strategies to the SRA priorities, joint-funding mechanisms for international calls, as well as public-private cooperation frameworks.”

The SRA results from the work of the international public-private research community represented in the Wheat Initiative committees and Expert Working Groups. The Wheat Initiative is grateful to the support from many Stakeholders which took the opportunity to comment and improve the document via an open consultation on the challenges and priorities identified in the SRA.

About the Wheat Initiative:
The Wheat Initiative was established in 2011 as part of the Action Plan of the G20 Ministries of Agriculture. It currently brings together 16 countries, 2 CGIAR Centres and 9 private breeding companies. It aims at coordinating international research efforts on wheat and at providing opportunities for an increased and more efficient utilisation of resources through alignment of national and regional activities and pooling of resources. For additional information visit: http://www.wheatinitiative.org/

About wheat:
With around 220 million hectares planted annually, wheat is the most widely cultivated cereal in the world. 85% of wheat is produced in only 10 countries/regions, with the EU-28, China and India contributing to 50% of it. 70% of the 700 million tons produced annually are used for human consumption and wheat provides around 20% of global calories and protein of the human diet. Wheat is a staple food for around 3 billion people including 1.2 billion poor. Stable and reliable wheat production and the maintenance of prices at an affordable level are therefore paramount for global food security and political stability.

Wheat Initiative launches its Strategic Research Agenda

View the Video presenting the Wheat Initiative SRA
For further information, please contact:

Scientific contacts:
Hélène Lucas, Wheat Initiative International Scientific Coordinator
Peter Langridge, Chair of the Wheat Initiative Scientific Board

Press Relations:
Anna Dall’Oca, Wheat Initiative Communications Officer
+33 142 759 485
Twitter: @WheatInitiative

U.S. Graduate Research Grant in Global Food Security


Application Package

Spring 2015 Round – Applications accepted beginning January 12, 2015
Application deadline: Monday, April 13, 2015 11:59 p.m. Eastern time

A complete application will consist of the two components (PART A and PART B) described in detail below.

A complete application will consist of the two components (PART A and PART B) described in detail below.

PART AThe following documents must be submitted as a single PDF document with the file name: “LastName FirstName Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”  Submit via email to  with an identically named subject heading.

The following documents must be submitted as a single PDF document with the file name: “LastName FirstName Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”  Submit via email to borlaugfellows@purdue.edu with an identically named subject heading.

  1. A completed Application Form Download Application Form (.docx)
  2. A Project Narrative on given topics Instructions for writing Project Narrative
  3. Completed Budget Form, Budget Justification Form, and Project Timeline Form Download Budget Form (.xlsx)
  4. Proof of US citizenship
  5. Institutional letters of support from the submitting university and from the participating IARC/NARS. The letter from the submitting university should come from a Department Head, Dean, or other appropriate official and should state support for the student’s research and a willingness to take responsibility for the financial management of the grant. The letter of institutional support from the IARC/NARS should come from the mentor’s unit head or center director and should convey the center’s commitment to the project.
  6. A letter of approval from the submitting university’s sponsored programs office. The proposal must be approved by the sponsored programs office (or similar office), and the approval letter must accompany the applicant’s submission.


The two referees named in the Application Form should email their letters of support directly to:borlaugfellows@purdue.edu. The subject heading of the email should read: “ApplicantLastName ApplicantFirstName Recommendation Spring 2015 Borlaug Graduate Research Grant.”

  • The letter of recommendation from your advisor must include:
    • An assessment of the applicant’s character, motivation, leadership potential, communication skills, and ability to work in groups.
    • An assessment of the student’s academic and professional performance and potential.
    • An assessment of the student’s commitment to global development.
    • A description of the advisor’s role in the student’s research work and the role of the selected IARC/NARC scientist, with respect to both the research linkages between the two institutions and the mentorship of the student applicant.
  • The letter of recommendation from your IARC mentor must include:
    • An assessment of the relevance of the student’s research to the research priorities of the center or to the development priorities of the country.

It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that letters of support are submitted by the application deadline.

Instructions for Writing Project Narrative

The Project Narrative is a critical component of the application packet and it is your opportunity to demonstrate the quality of your research proposal, how the proposed project relates to the Feed the Future initiative, and your leadership potential. The Project Narrative consists of a three-part essay that addresses each of the following topics:

Scientific Background and Graduate Research Plans (1500 word limit). Provide the scientific background for your research that will lead to your graduate degree and describe how your Borlaug supported project will help you obtain your degree.

Vision & Leadership Statement (1000 word limit). Describe your vision for a food security intervention as a means to catalyze agriculture-led economic growth, the role of science and technology in achieving this vision, and how you will apply the knowledge and experience gained from the research experience to achieve that vision. Describe what leadership means to you and what experiences have informed your perspective; include your thoughts on the role of the U.S. in enhancing global development. Provide examples of leadership experiences, how you believe you will be a future leader, and how you expect to develop your leadership skills.

Plan of Activity (750 word limit). Describe a clear plan of activity at the IARC or NARS, including project goals and milestones during the research period.  Include a description of and rationale for the linkages between your graduate program of study and the participating IARC/NARS, including the role of the mentorship in optimizing the research plan of activity. A timeline of activities must be included in the Budget, Justification and Timeline Form.