Better farmer access to machinery eases crop residue burning in India


“Super SMS” fitted combine harvester and “Happy Seeder” can be used for simultaneously harvesting rice and seeding wheat. Photo: H.S. Sidhu/CIMMYT

November 14, 2017

EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) — In conjunction with recent state regulations outlawing the use of fire to destroy field crop waste in northwest India, some farmers are benefitting from technological innovations that can help prevent damaging smog levels in the capital Delhi and other areas, according to scientists.

Currently, the majority of farmers in northwest India burn leftover vegetation residue to prepare fields for planting in cyclical rice-wheat crop rotations, leading to negative consequences for soil quality, the environment, animal and human health. Rice-wheat crop rotations make up 84 percent of burned crops, a key source of atmospheric pollution.

“Farmers need access to appropriate machinery and training to implement change to discourage burning,” said M.L. Jat, a systems agronomist who works in New Delhi with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). “Using crop residue in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner could benefit all stakeholders.”

Many farmers keep costs low by burning residue on the farm, rather than paying for its removal for other uses, which could include animal feed, biofuel,  incorporating it into the soil or retaining it in the field as mulch, according to a research paper titled “Burning issues of paddy residue management in northwest fields of India.” Fire is also used to eliminate weeds, pests, disease and remaining field stubble after harvest.

Ash left on the fields after residue burning increases the availability of some nutrients, while depleting others and negatively affecting soil health in the long term. During burning, soil temperature increases, bacteria and fungi are killed off, regenerating in a matter of days. Residue burning can damage plants and trees on field edges with negative implications for the overall ecosystem.

Residues can be used as a renewable energy source to improve air, soil quality, climate change and reduce global warming, provided these are economically viable options for farmers. Incentives could also help encourage farmers to leave residues on their fields for use as fertilizer.

If residue is mulched into the soil, nutrient levels improve and carbon sequestration capacity increases, lowering the release of greenhouse gases into the environment. Additionally, residue retention reduces evaporation and increases soil moisture by as much as 10 percent during the wheat-growing season.

Farmers can benefit from the Happy Seeder, a machine that can plant wheat seed directly into the soil by boring through crop residue. The Straw Management System (SMS) machine spreads straw residue thinly on the soil surface allowing seeding.

“Residues are also of great economic value as livestock feed, fuel and industrial raw materials, but of the total rice residues produced in northwestern India, only around 15 percent can potentially be used for these purposes and the rest must be managed with in-situ (on site) management technologies,” said Jat, who conducted the research in collaboration with the CGIAR research programs on maize (CRP Maize), wheat(CRP Wheat) and climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS).

“Although farmers are aware of the adverse affects of crop burning, they rely on it due to the lack of economically viable and acceptable machinery and alternatives to dispose of residue.”

However, deploying advanced technology, including the concurrent use of straw management systems, fitted combine harvesters and Happy Seeders for direct drilling is a viable solution to eliminate burning, he added.

With these advancements and aggressive campaigns, within a period of a couple of months in Punjab state alone, over 1,000 combine owners have launched a “Super SMS.”

Additionally, nearly 2,000 happy seeders are being manufactured, which will lead to large-scale adoption of conservation agriculture techniques in the upcoming wheat season, Jat said.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the CIMMYT and retrieved on 11/24/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Biochar could clear the air in more ways than one


Biochar could reduce local air pollution from agriculture by reducing emissions of nitric oxide from the soil, according to Rice University researchers. Credit: Ghasideh Pourhashem/Rice University

Health, economic benefits of capturing agricultural nitric oxide outlined in a study.

Date: July 27, 2017, Source: Rice University

Summary: Biochar could reduce local air pollution from agriculture by reducing emissions of nitric oxide from soil. Researchers argue that a better understanding of nitric oxide response to biochar will save lives and money, especially on farms near urban areas where agricultural emissions contribute to ozone and particulate matter formation.

Biochar from recycled waste may both enhance crop growth and save health costs by helping clear the air of pollutants, according to Rice University researchers.

Rice researchers in Earth science, economics, and environmental engineering have determined that widespread use of biochar in agriculture could reduce health care costs, especially for those who live in urban areas close to farmland.

Biochar is ground charcoal produced from waste wood, manure or leaves. Added to the soil, the porous carbon has been shown to boost crop yields, lessen the need for fertilizer and reduce pollutants by storing nitrogen that would otherwise be released to the atmosphere.

The study led by Ghasideh Pourhashem, a postdoctoral fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, appears in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Pourhashem worked with environmental engineering graduate student Quazi Rasool and postdoc Rui Zhang, Rice Earth scientist Caroline Masiello, energy economist Ken Medlock and environmental scientist Daniel Cohan to show that urban dwellers in the American Midwest and Southwest would gain the greatest benefits in air quality and health from greater use of biochar.

They said the U.S. counties that would stand to save the most in health care costs from reduced smog are Will, La Salle and Livingston counties in Illinois; San Joaquin, San Diego, Fresno and Riverside counties in California; Weld County in Colorado; Maricopa County in Arizona; and Fort Bend County in Texas.

“Our model projections show health care cost savings could be on the order of millions of dollars per year for some urban counties next to farmland,” Pourhashem said. “These results are now ready to be tested by measuring changes in air pollutants from specific agricultural regions.”

Pourhashem noted the key measurements needed are the rate of soil emission of nitric oxide (NO), which is a smog precursor after biochar is applied to fields. Many studies have already shown that biochar reduces the emissions of a related compound, nitrous oxide, but few have measured NO.

“We know that biochar impacts the soil nitrogen cycle, and that’s how it reduces nitrous oxide,” said Masiello, a professor of Earth, environmental and planetary science. “It likely reduces NO in the same way. We think the local impact of biochar-driven NO reductions could be very important.”

NO contributes to urban smog and acid rain. NO also is produced by cars and power plants, but the Rice study focused on its emission from fertilized soils.

The Rice team used data from three studies of NO emissions from soil in Indonesia and Zambia, Europe and China. The data revealed a wide range of NO emission curtailment — from 0 percent to 67 percent — depending on soil type, meteorological conditions and the chemical properties of biochar used.

Using the higher figure in their calculations, they determined that a 67 percent reduction in NO emissions in the United States could reduce annual health impacts of agricultural air pollution by up to $660 million. Savings through the reduction of airborne particulate matter — to which NO contributes — could be 10 times larger than those from ozone reduction, they wrote.

“Agriculture rarely gets considered for air pollution control strategies,” said Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “Our work shows that modest changes to farming practices can benefit the air and soil too.”

Story Source:

Materials provided by Rice UniversityNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Ghasideh Pourhashem, Quazi ZIAUR Rasool, Rui Zhang, Kenneth B Medlock, Daniel S Cohan, Caroline A. Masiello. Valuing the air quality effects of biochar reductions on soil NO emissionsEnvironmental Science & Technology, 2017; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b00748


Article Disclaimer: This article was published by the Science Daily and retrieved on 07/28/2017 and posted here for information and educational purposes only. The views and contents of the article remain those of the authors. We will not be held accountable for the reliability and accuracy of the materials. If you need additional information on the published contents and materials, please contact the original authors and publisher. Please cite the authors, original source, and INDESEEM accordingly.


Researcher examines biochar use in forests

Matthew Weaver/Capital PressRockford, Wash., farmer David Gady holds biochar made from bluegrass screenings January 2014 on his farm. Researchers are looking at the use of biochar in forests.

Matthew Weaver/Capital PressRockford, Wash., farmer David Gady holds biochar made from bluegrass screenings January 2014 on his farm. Researchers are looking at the use of biochar in forests.

Reported by: Matthew Weaver

Research is underway that could lead to more uses for waste wood, a U.S. Forest Service researcher says.

Instead of thinning stands to boost productivity and burning the resulting slashpiles, researchers believe turning it into biochar — a supplement made of charred biological matter — would be better for long-term carbon storage and boosting soil’s nutrient- and moisture-holding capacities.

“We’re hoping we can make a change in forest management,” said Deborah Page-Dumroese, research soil scientist with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station in Moscow, Idaho. “Instead of making slashpiles, we can actually use that waste wood for a benefit.”

Textured soils with little organic matter content responded better than soils with higher organic content. Agricultural soils typically show better response to biochar because they’re lower in organic matter, Page-Dumroese said.

Biochar is applied differently on forest soils. It is added to the surface instead of being incorporated into farm land. It takes several years for biochar to move into forest soils.

As more areas experience drought, an increase in water-holding capacity extends the growing season, Page-Dumroese said. Organic matter also acts as a sponge during flooding, retaining more moisture.

Page-Dumroese plans to continue her research. The biggest benefit of biochar is carbon sequestration, she said.

Researchers primarily focus on matching biochar to the proper site. Some forest sites do show an increase in the growth of overstory trees.

“We see small changes, but we still see above-ground growth changes,” Page-Dumroese said.

The sites most likely to require biochar include mine land sites, overgrazed areas and highly compacted forest sites with organic matter removed due to fire.

Page-Dumroese said some mine sites are showing an increase in plant survival.

She uses a mixed conifer feedstock or a mix of pinyon pine and juniper for biochar.

Page-Dumroese said roughly 30 percent of materials used to make biochar on an acre should be returned to that particular acre, but the rest could be sold for use on gardens or farms. She advised potential customers to consider the source of the biochar and its pH levels.

Howard Boyte, CEO of Walking Point Farms, a veteran-owned agritech business in Tigard, Ore., said the forest service approached him several years about commercializing biochar. The company plans to market a commercial product.

Page-Dumroese’s lab is the lead on researching the project with Oregon State University, Boyte said.

Biochar is expensive right now, Boyte said. The government would need to require biochar use for food it purchases for prisons, military and USDA food programs for it to gain traction with farmers, he said.

Article Disclaimer: This article was published at Capital Press and was retrieved on March 9, 2016 and posted here for educational and information purposes only. The views, findings and contents of the article remains those of the author. Please cite the original source accordingly.




Stubborn Soils Resist Composting and Biochar Treatments

The researchers did not find any increase in Mycorrhizas numbers, even in highly micorrhizal plants such as sorghum (pictured). The researchers did not find any increase in Mycorrhizas numbers, even in highly micorrhizal plants such as sorghum (pictured).Image: Cyndy Sims Parr
Written by 
  • Esperance soil trials falter on long-term soil fertility influence
  • Research to test results from previous research into boosting root length (mycorrhiza activity)
  • Vietnam crops thrived on nutrient-rich biochar

SOILS on WA’s south-east coast, notorious for their non-wetting properties and low nutrient levels, continue to stump agricultural scientists despite being involved in a biochar and composting trial designed to improve their productivity.

With millions of hectares of this stubborn soil type dominating the south coastal farming regions, solutions to soil infertility could be valuable to local farmers by significantly improving the economic value of WA’s commercial crops.

Biochar (charcoal produced from plant matter) and compost were added to the soils over four years to determine if these organic additions could alter the productivity of the soils.

However, despite short-term crop yield gains, the organic amendments did not appear to have a long-term influence on soil fertility, and the solution remains a puzzle to scientists.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) scientist David Hall, who ran the trials near Esperance, says the research was initiated to test previous studies showing organic amendments could increase mycorrhiza activity.

Mycorrhizas are symbiotic organisms essential in increasing a plant’s root length, allowing them to scavenge more nutrients and water, a function particularly important for crops in sandplain soils.

Mr Hall says similar trials were also being run on sandplain soils in south-central Vietnam as part of an Australian Centre of International Research project, but the results from both trials had been remarkably different.

Department of Agriculture and Food Senior Research Scientist David Hall, Dr Hoang Tam, Dr Brad Keenan and Professor Richard Bell at one of the biochar trial sites in Vietnam.


“When colleagues started looking at the benefits of biochar in Vietnam, one of the biggest issues was that the soils there were highly potassium, sulphur and micronutrient deficient, and so there were big responses to the nutrient-rich biochar,” he says.

“In Australia we have a better fertiliser history, and while the soils in our local trials had low potassium levels, they were not as deficient as in Vietnam.”

Mr Hall says while yield gains averaging 13 per cent were achieved in the first two years after the additions of biochar and compost, any yield gains after that date could not be attributed to the soil amendments.

“Nutrients flow through sandplain soils very quickly, particularly nitrogen, and we wanted to see if these organic amendments had benefits in terms of retaining nutrients in the longer term with the aim of increasing crop yields,” he says.

“We found that any yield increases could only be attributed to the direct nutrient additions from the organic amendments and we couldn’t find any increase in Mycorrhizas numbers, even in highly micorrhizal plants such as sorghum.”

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This article was published at Science Network of Western Australia  and was retrieved on 10/07/2015 posted here for educational and information purposes only.



Biochar Efficacy on Soil Nitrogen Questioned

bio char







“In my view recent research has not been able to demonstrate an affective, valuable role for biochar in agriculture.”—Professor Gilkes. Lou Gold

A UWA study has challenged claims that biochar is more effective in minimising nitrogen leaching from soil than traditional clay amendments.

The article published by CSIRO Publishing titled “Clay and biochar amendments decreased inorganic but not dissolved organic nitrogen leaching in soil” gives a recent update on the new research.

Clay is commonly used in agriculture to ameliorate water repellence and improve water retention, however in dryer climates such as Australia, biochar has been claimed to be more useful because it has a greater water holding capacity.

Biochar, a type of charcoal, has been proposed as an alternative to clay because of its porous structure enabling it to better retain nutrients and moisture while at the same time storing carbon.

Biochar is generally alkaline and could be a useful additive in place of products such as lime to improve the quality of acidic soils (typically pH of 5-6) in regions such as the Wheatbelt of WA.

These properties are claimed to assist in improving soil fertility and increase agricultural productivity making use of biochar increasingly appealing to farmers.

However, the study found that biochar does not possess significantly better nutrient absorption qualities than clay, although both are acknowledged as beneficial in reducing nitrogen leaching.

UWA’s Soil Research Winthrop Professor Robert Gilkes says although there a number of clear benefits he still has concerns.

“The whole situation is complicated because putting biochar in soils is also claimed to be a way of stopping carbon getting into the atmosphere.

“I think the proponents of burying biochar need to be clear that it’s only slowing down the rate of carbon transfer back into the atmosphere, not preventing it.

“There are several ways in which you can catch carbon dioxide, this is just one.

“One of the downsides is that biochar production is a costly and wasteful process which doesn’t provide any benefits.

“It is no more nutrient absorbing than clay,” Professor Gilkes says.

Biochar is produced via pyrolysis, a process which actually produces energy through use of renewable sources, with the biochar (a carbon sink) retrieved as a by-product.

“The idea is that companies and countries can bury their carbon in the ground which reduces their carbon input into the atmosphere and in turn reduce their carbon liabilities,” Professor Gilkes says.

Clay is often readily available from the sub-soil and has been used for many years in some farming enterprises, so determining whether biochar offers a viable alternative needs serious consideration.

“In my view recent research has not been able to demonstrate an affective, valuable role for biochar in agriculture,” Professor Gilkes says.

This article was published at Science Network of Western Australia and retrieved on 10/07/2015 and posted here for educational and information purposes only.



Researchers receive grant to study biochar

The Traditional Earth Pyrolysis Method

 Sep 3, 2015

Researchers at Iowa State have been awarded nearly $2 million for research on the integrated pyrolysis of biochar systems.

Biochar is a product used on soils to return nutrients to the soil, which are removed when biomass is harvested for bioenrgy and aid in sequestering carbon that otherwise would be released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide as plants decompose.

The grant, provided by the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University, will provide funding for three years.

“Biochar is one of three co-products produced when biomass feedstocks such as corn stocks and cobs are heated without oxygen, a process known as pyrolysis,” said David Laird, professor of agronomy and chief researcher for the project.

The other two products produced are bio oil and syngas, both of which can be used as fuel or to produce other products, Laird said.

Biochar has been a theoretical probability for Laird since the 1990s, but in 2005 the probability became a reality.

“In 2005 we realized there was a possible synergism between biochar and bioenergy,” Laird said.

When the corn stocks and cobs are heated along with different feedstocks, such as corn stover, food waste or wood, different types of biochar will be produced. Combine the different feedstocks with different heating temperatures and you can get billions of different types of biochar, Laird said.

“As a general rule, the higher the temp [of the pyrolysis process used to produce the biochar] the more stable the biochar is in soils,” Laird said.

The more stable the biochar is the longer it can stay in the soil. Generally, the biochar will stay in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years, Laird said.

A major product of the research will be a biochar model which will be incorporated into the Agricultural Production System sIMulator by Sotirios Archontoulis, assistant professor of agronomy, and Fernando Miguez, assistant professor of agronomy. The model will allow the researchers to simulate the impact on crop yields and the environment when they place a certain type of biochar into different soil types. The model also allows the researchers to test the biochar in different climates, Laird said.

Economists can use the results from the simulator model to find the best location to start a biochar industry.

“The place where it would make the most sense to put the industry would be here in the corn belt,” said Dermot Hayes, professor of economics.

The biochar has proven to have bigger impacts on poor soil, such as soil destroyed by a tornado, than higher quality soils.

“On every farm, there are parts where you lose money,” Hayes said. “The char can improve the quality [of the soil] for a long period of time.”

Hayes predicts farmers could see the value of their farm improve by 10 to 15 percent when soil quality increased using biochar.

When all of the research is complete, Laird and his team will look into the possible benefits and setbacks that could come from the industry. They will look at how big the climate change impact could be, and where it makes the most economic and environmental sense to put the first plant.

“This is just one piece of a larger research agenda,” Laird said.

This article was published online at Iowa State Daily and retrieved on 09/15/2015 and posted here for information and educational purposes only.



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