Regional Assessment of Biochar Soil Amendments on Crop Productivity, Drought Resilience, and Carbon Sequestration

Crops amended with biochar superimposed (right) on control crops (left). —Claire Phillips, 2017

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Climate change impacts on water resources in the Pacific Northwest are predicted to have transformational effects on agriculture. Loss of winter snow pack, reduced summer stream flows, and increased summer temperatures are all phenomena that have already been observed, and are expected to worsen over this century. Research is ongoing in the Northwest to understand agriculture practices that might allow farmers to prepare for these climate change impacts. One potential technique is the use of biochars (charcoal made from decomposition of organic matter at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen), which can be used as a soil amendment that can increase soil moisture retention, improve agricultural yields, and hold carbon in soil for long periods of time.

Despite the proliferation of studies aimed at understanding and characterizing biochars, general principles and agronomic recommendations have been slow to emerge. To address this lack of information, this project will evaluate the potential for biochar soil amendments to mitigate drought impacts on agriculture. Results of these studies will be used to develop a web-based Pacific Northwest Biochar Atlas, providing interactive maps that show potential biochar feedstocks, biochar producers and early adopters, results of biochar studies, and calculators that can be used to estimate biochar impacts on moisture retention, as well as maps of projected changes in precipitation and temperature.

Lead Investigator:
Kristin Trippe, USDA ARS Forage Seed and Cereal Research Unit (Kristin.Trippe@ars.usda.gov)

Other Investigator(s):
Claire Phillips (USDA-ARS)

Project Contact:

State: Regionwide

Funding Year: FY 2016

Project Status: In Progress

Topic Category: Snow & Water

Science Agenda Theme: Vulnerability and Adaptation, Communication of Science Findings, Response of Biological Systems to Climate Change, Response of Physical Systems to Climate Change

Discipline:

Partners: USDA Northwest Climate Hub

  • This project evaluates the use of biochar soil amendments as a strategy to help improve agricultural outcomes in a drier environment. Biochar is a form of charcoal that improves soils by reducing acidity and holding moisture and nutrients.
  • The project will result in a web-based Pacific Northwest Biochar Atlas, with decision-support tools to help growers use biochar as effectively as possible for their soil and crop types.
  • BioLogical Carbon Products 
  • Oregon Dept of Forestry
  • US Forest Service