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More often than not this is a major complaint concerning fertilizer requirements, even from those
who believe they should follow the recommended advice as closely as possible?
Provided the soil test properly represents the fertility level of the area in question, the first step to
the correct answer to such a question is to determine what the grower has in mind to
accomplish. Without understanding what is actually expected from the information on a soil test,
it is possible that the best approach for the farmer or grower’s specific situation is not what the
one making the recommendations has in mind.
Most soil samples are taken in a hurry, sent in a hurry and results are expected “in a hurry” as
well. Consequently, very valuable information that could be most helpful for recommending the
best program to the farmer or grower may not have even been provided or properly considered.
As an example, we provide a soil worksheet to be filled out as completely as possible by all of
those who send samples for analysis and recommendations. The requested information is
important to understand what is needed to make the best recommendations and to minimize
delays in getting the results back in the shortest possible time. When the proper information is
not supplied that lack often results in added delays in order to determine the proper way to
On that worksheet, in the lower left hand corner is a box listing four types of recommendations
that can be requested. Excellent, Building, Maintenance and Minimum are shown there with a
note that the program to be used for attaining an excellent soil will be provided if no box is
checked. Some just do not take the time to consider this as important and fail to check the
appropriate box. But many actually feel that Excellent is the program they want to follow, and it
truly would be best provided enough funds are available to cover the cost. But other than on
small plots and gardens, most only want the excellent program until they see how expensive that
is to accomplish. Then they have a program that is needed for providing the best results from that
soil for growing high yields and excellent quality, but it costs so much some just throw up their
hands and say the program is too expensive.
When you get the best, it will generally cost more. This is especially true where crops have been
grown over and over again without adequately replacing all of those nutrients that have been
removed. When growing crops for years on the same land without replacing what is taken out
year by year, it will usually cost quite a bit extra to try and put it back as soon as possible. How
many years has it been, if ever, since needed sulfur and micronutrients have been adequately
applied on soils that are still shown to be sorely deficient? We see soils that have received
manure or compost or small amounts of various trace elements in purchased fertilizers for years
that still fall into that category.
However, when funds are limited, does that mean there is no other approach that can still be
utilized based on what the soil test shows as needed? The needs are still there, but under the
circumstances, which ones should provide the greatest advantage for producing the best
crop? Most growers want an excellent soil. But playing catch-up on what has been taken and not
replaced for years can add significantly to the cost. That added expense is what causes most to
start thinking more in terms of a minimum program of fertility. Yet the minimum program
should only be considered when you have absolutely no other choice, and even then, keeping in
mind that it is only a very temporary solution. That is because when actually using such a
program, you are removing nutrients that are presently adequate for producing the crop without
replacing them. Depending on whether those levels are good or barely adequate could make a big
difference in the condition of the next crop that needs to be grown there.
There is still an additional choice that can be made when it costs too much to apply everything to
build the soil toward achieving its top potential in the shortest period of time – which is what the
“excellent” fertility program is intended to accomplish. If growers cannot do that, then spend the
available budget where it will make the most difference for the crop to be grown.
Whether intentional or just trying to help, too often farmers are led to believe soil fertility is too
complicated to understand and follow. Leave it to the “experts” who know what is
best. However, most fertilizer programs are designed with no real regard for what nutrient levels
are in the soil. Whether levels are good or bad, or for those who do not even know what those
levels would need to be, farmers and growers are led to believe the best approach to fertilizer use
is to feed the plants. Regardless of what fertility levels show to be in the soil, that feeding
program is too often based on a “good pH” and what amount of N-P-K fertilizer it requires to
provide the expected yield. In too many cases this may also include a smattering of trace
elements added in such miniscule amounts it would not even come close to solving any real
When this is the case, soils that are in excellent shape get the same recommended fertilizer
program as those that are in poor shape. Or even in some cases with GPS applications, the
problem areas may get more or less of the same mix, depending on the philosophy of those
giving the advice. As a result, how many farmers have been led to believe that they only need
one fertilizer program to grow each crop on the entire farm? This may sound good, but does it
provide the real needs for the best crop and yield? If such is the case who really needs a soil test
anyway? Just put on what it takes to grow the normally anticipated crop yield and hope things
get better, or maybe at least stay the same.
Does this really make good sense? Farmers tell us from time to time, a “feed the soil approach”
may work where you are, but it will not work here, because our soils are different. Well, yes they
are! But how many farms have the same soil on each entire field? Soils may be considered as
different for many reasons, but there is one thing you can prove about different soils over and
over again. When you see variations in soil color, soil texture, plant growth or any other obvious
difference, the fertilizer nutrient content will generally be different as well., and what is required
to grow the best crops there will also vary – sometimes in small amounts, but generally in
significant quantities of actual need. How small of an area that is losing ten to twenty bushels of
wheat, corn or soybean production is it worth to isolate and correct on your fields?
The Albrecht system of soil fertility is designed to feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant. If
the level of a nutrient in the soil is sufficient to grow the crop then skip that one and go on to the
ones that are more limiting as that will make more difference in terms of fertilizer costs and
improving yields. We find many soils where magnesium is needed more than P or K for the next
crop, but how many consultants can really determine there is such a need, let alone how much to
use, when soils already appear to have too much? This involves a program of soil testing that is
exact enough to enable prioritizing all needed crop nutrients. Whatever is determined as priority
#1 is supplied first, then #2 and then #3, until the budget is used up. Using such a program
enables the grower to put the money that is available where it will tend to make the most
As a consulting company, we do not sell or make money on the sale of needed fertilizer and soil
amendments. We sell the advice farmers and growers need to make the best crop. Our priorities
are not affected by what the fertilizer company has on hand to sell. What the soil needs most to
grow the best crop is what motivates our concern and the recommendations we make for each
soil and crop.
Furthermore, materials that actually build the available levels of a deficient nutrient in the soil
should be applied to crops (regarded as “soil feeders”) instead of plant feeders. Plant feeders are
types of fertilizer that must be picked up by the plants quickly, otherwise they will be tied up and
remain in a form that is no longer useable and thus will not build in the soil and will not show up
on a soil test as available for the next crop. As the soil feeder types of fertilizer, plus effective
soil amendments such as limestone, compost and manures, if available and called for on each
soil, are used to build sufficient nutrient levels in that soil, then as they are built up, they will
then show up as no longer the most limiting. Therefore, based on the current levels shown on the
soil analysis, nutrients that are sufficient can be placed further down the list concerning how best
to spend the allotted budget for that crop or field.
Now it comes down to the question of whose knowledge should you trust? Prioritizing fertility
needs in a crop can be quite different for grass, vs, legume, vs. mixed grass/legume pastures, vs.
oats, vs. corn silage. Even more variations are possible between fertility for specific vegetables,
as opposed to apples, fruits, nuts, grapes, melons or bananas. But is such a program really
possible, or as some well-established sources claim, is this just another ploy to get farmers to use
this service rather than some other one?
Start a small test and learn for yourself what really works best. It is not so hard to believe what
you see with your own eyes. Split a field and use the current program on half and then use the
testing for the prioritized nutrient program on the other half. Determine to carry through with the
test for three years on good soils. It can take even less time on some poorer soils, but three years
will show even better results there too. First check to see whether the extra testing, time and
expense is worth the difference before making full use of any new program.
“Feed the soil and let the soil feed the plant” has made the greatest difference for those using our
services in terms of higher quality and more profitable crop yields for all types of growers and
their various crops. It works and it works very well. Start small, prove what works best, and
grow from there. That is the way we have built our business.
Neal Kinsey, from Charleston, Missouri, USA, owns and operates Kinsey Agricultural
Services, Inc., a company which specializes in soil fertility management. The program
is based on the system of providing soil nutrients to correctly treat the soil to correctly
feed the plants that grow there, using soil chemistry to correct the soil’s physical
structure to build the “house” which enables the biology to flourish. Our business
includes working with all types of food and fiber crops throughout the
world. Recommendations and consultations include soils received for analysis and
recommendations from every state in the United States, every province in Canada and
from over 75 other countries, principally Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South
Africa, Great Britain, Germany, Austria, France, Ireland, Switzerland and The
Netherlands. Detailed soil audits will determine specific fertilization programs based
on each individual soil and its fertility requirements
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On Giving Tuesday I hope you will support www.remineralize.org a great charity that is doing so much to promote the use of basalt rock dust to improve growing conditions for all plants. We live in a demineralized world where plants and animals including us are unhealthy due to a lack of essential minerals. Both natural processes such as rainfall leaching and man’s agricultural practices of allowing lots of soil erosion lead to minerals going into the ocean. We can really solve the climate issue by remineralizing the land and even oceans so that healthy plants sequester more carbon and live longer keeping the carbon from returning to the air. Please visit their website and sign up for the newsletter and most importantly make a donation on Giving Tuesday. Whether you are concerned about climate or the quality of food or both this positive solution needs your support and promotion. So few know if the great success possible with rock dust remineralization and sadly some scientists who do know about it dismiss it in favor of manufactured chemical fertilizers which can do so much harm to soil life and water quality. Please also join us at www.getrealalliance.org to promote our positive carbon solution that proposes large scale remineralization funded by an affordable carbon tax. Both organization need members and support to give us a future.
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Some forests will burn if lit by either lightning or man’s actions. In American there is lots of forest that is ready to burn. The nearly mythical climate change is a very small part of the reason. Man’s intervention into the natural occurrence of lightning induced forest fires has resulted in many decades of accumulation of dead wood and debris in the forests. The killing of many trees by disease and insects has left even more dead wood in the forests. In some places a majority of trees are dead. These areas are ripe for a fire. Forest fires are bad in many ways, but especially bad for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.A large fire raises carbon dioxide levels in two ways. First there is the massive amount of carbon released by the burning. Andthere is also the effect of years of sharply reduced carbon sequestration due to the disappearance of significant numbers of trees.
Man has a history of treating forested land with disrespect. Little forest land is well managed. Forest land is divided between largely managed timber on privately owned land and largely unmanaged timber on national forests in the western United States. Humans have not set foot on much of this government owned forest. Nature is not a kind manager: forests becomechoked with too many trees that stunt each other’s growth and soil becomes badly demineralized, resulting in sickly trees which succumb to disease and parasites. It is said that more forest burned before western man settled California than burns today by a large margin. What we do know is that most trees don’t live to be very old besides the fire resistant redwoods which are very old. There is a sad trend towards less vital younger trees, especially in areas where there has been heavylogging.
I owned a property with lots of woods on it and was surprisedthat in areas that had been logged many years ago there was regrowth of lots of trees, but the regrown trees were shorter and less healthy than the very few remaining older trees that had been uncut when the forest was first cut by white settlers. The old growth trees were massive and tall. Many of the regrowth trees on my property were starting to rot from the inside even though they were not old. We cut some for timber and were surprised that they weren’t good for lumber due to a hollow forming in the center of the tree. The trees were literally eating themselves because of their being unable to resist decomposing organisms. I believe a lack of adequate minerals is to blame forsickly trees that are unable to resist disease and parasites. My forest was on depleted ground and over many years the trees barely grew in height and girth. We don’t know what the original timber looked like, but the few old trees that were left as shade for an original settler’s homestead were scattered throughthe woods were taller and more robust. My family owned a large cotton mill that was built 140 years ago from first growth timber of a size that is unavailable now. Massive timbers 40 to 60 feet long and one by two feet in cross section came from massive,tall trees that don’t exist anymore in large numbers. The soil has become demineralized and trees are shorter and less healthy. Every tree cut and removed from the woods takes soil nutrients with it and rainfall leaches water soluble nutrients as well.
Trees don’t use a lot of soil nutrients, and burning wood efficiently leaves a tiny amount of ash, but there are rock minerals in trees and wood ashes. If natural leaching and erosion removes minerals from the soil and volcanic eruptions and glaciation adds minerals, then there is an ebb and flow of mineral levels in the soil, and thus trees, that goes on for countless years. In a natural forest, trees live until they die from a variety of causes with the dead tree rotting into forest mulch or being burned to return its ash largely back into the soil with some of the nutrients being leached into the water to return to the sea or wetland.
Man has altered the natural cycle by cutting and removing lots of trees for use which removes their nutrients from the forest land. Additionally, putting out forest fires where the fuel load of dead vegetation grows each year alters the cycle. In many areas the timber is regrowth from earlier cutting or fires and is too tightly spaced. Tight spacing results in trees that are weakened and have dead branches that are vulnerable to fire.
Man has primarily utilized clear cutting, the cheapest and easiest method to harvest trees. There is a lot of federal forest that has been set aside and not cut or managed, sometimes very near human dwellings. People love the beauty of the woods and a lot of homes have been built in timbered areas. Due to demineralized and depleted soil, the trees aren’t vital and in many areas. There are lots of dead trees both standing and fallen that have built up in all the years that fires have been quickly suppressed. Additionally, clearing areas of the woods for houses lets in more light to the adjacent remaining forest land which encourages undergrowth to develop which is more vulnerable to fire.
Logging is usually a very destructive process that is opposed by most environmental groups for many good reasons. Today, older growth hardwood forests are cut down and replanted with fast growing pine trees to create a tree plantation where the trees will be cut after just ten years to thin the stand depending on how the trees grow. Soil quality makes a huge difference in how tall and vigorous a stand of timber is. I had some very poor soil on my property where we planted some pine trees. The trees didn’t grow tall, reaching only about 30 feet, which meant branches low to the ground which made them no good for lumber. We just cut them for pulp wood for paper use. Pine trees on better ground might get to be 80 feet tall. Interestingly, pine trees don’t grow on really fertile land but require just the right ground.
A healthy tree that is not stressed by lack of moisture in the soil is almost impossible to burn. In fact, a lightning strike will leave a scar on the living tree and not start a fire. But in some areas,the trees grow in a climate where long dry spells leave a tree dried to a point where it is likely to catch on fire when struck by lightning. We are seeing lots of lightning-lit fires in the year 2020. These strikes are lighting woods that are filled with fuel.The resulting fires burn very hot and cause lots of destruction.
Currently there is little use for all the dead trees and debris in the forest and little effort made to manage the forests for healthy growth and fire resistance. What is needed is underbrush and dead wood removal along with a thinning of trees growing too close together for optimal growth. Remineralizing the soil is also needed to increase growth and health of the remaining trees. In some of the forests that are mostly dead there is actually a need to remove the dead and sick trees. These areas should bereplanted with resistant tree seedlings that are fertilized with rock dust and compost as well as biochar for increased growth and health.
Currently there is little value placed on carbon sequestered from the air and no value placed on preventing the carbon trapped in timber from being returned to the air by decomposition or burning. There is a great potential use for the biomass. It can be reclaimed, the usable wood for use and the remainder for producing biochar. Traditional methods of cutting and gathering woodland biomass don’t work in the many areas that are far from a road or on difficult terrain. Much timberland is so overgrown with understory and littered with dead timber that it is nearly impossible to even walk through. Very little money is allocated to timber land management which means that neglect is the standard. The GET Real Alliance proposes a radically different way to improve timberland and sharply reduce the damage done by forest fires. We propose a program of using dead and excess timber to produce primarily biochar with the sale of usable wood. The vast majority of biomass that needs to be removed from forests to wipe out the risk and magnitude of forest fire is usable only as biochar feedstock.
Biochar is biomass that has been burned at a temperature below carbon’s ignition level, usually in an oxygen limiting way. Biochar can be the end result of a wood energy power system that partially combusts the wood to produce combustible gases that can be used as fuel for a power generating system. Thus both biochar and renewable power can be produced. Biochar is basically pure carbon in a porous form that is a magnet for nutrients, water, and soil life. The legendary Terra Preta in latinAmerica was created by ancient man and is still very fertile a thousand years later. A mixture of biochar, basalt rock dust, and compost can sharply boost sustainable timber and agriculture production meaning sequestration of carbon from the air!!
The only feasible way to remove material from dense woods on impossible to access on ground land is from the air and the FOI Group LLC has conceived a new way to do this that is environmentally friendly and very doable with a well fundedcarbon sequestration program. Biochar is a part of the solution to rising carbon dioxide levels and soil health for both crops and forests. We need to be making hundreds of millions of tons of itand applying it to all land. Making biochar out of dead or dying trees removes much of the carbon in the wood permanently from the carbon cycle and enhances both soil life and plants on the treated soil, leading to greater removal of carbon from the air. Only a small fraction of the produced biochar from an acre of timber is needed on that land so most can be taken elsewhere for use.
The proposed solution is novel, lighter-than-air ships that can be tethered over an area of forest and moved as the desired material has been lifted up. There is so much fuel that needs to be removed that an airship may only move a hundred feet or so a day as the land below it is cleaned up and made fire proof and restored to growth. These airships can be equipped with timber processing equipment to salvage usable timber for use as well as chip and burn some of the wood for power and biochar. Shuttle airships would transport the bulk of timber and wood chips to a shipping point where they could be loaded on a truck for transport. It is believed that while airships offer the unique advantage of being able to access road-less areas, they are more expensive than truck transport when roads are available. They are a double gain as far as carbon sequestration with the long term near permanent removal by biochar and the increased growth of properly managed and fertilized forest. There is also the avoided large emission when a forest burns and kills the trees.
All of this costs a good bit of money, but can be funded by a tax on carbon emissions and is a net positive. Currently, huge amounts of property damage and even loss of life is caused by wildfires. Timber sales and renewable energy revenue will help with the cost. We need to rethink what timber is worth when we price in the incredible damage inflicted by clear cutting.Additionally, we need to find a sustainable way of accessing timber that doesn’t make the world a worse place. Selective aerial harvesting will be more expensive than scorched earth clear cutting. But this method of harvesting will leave us with a better forest that can grow without stopping to sequester more carbon and have good timber for the future.
Spending carbon sequestration dollars on revitalizing forests and making countless tons of biochar will cost more money per ton of biochar than the tax on carbon emissions but has additional sequestration over time that makes it cost effective. Making the forests around human settlements fire proof will have huge benefits as well. Remineralized forests grow much faster than ones on depleted soils and adding biochar to the soil increases its water holding capacity greatly, making the trees more drought resistant as well. Healthy forests will help make the world carbon negative while we still use oil and gas and give us more timber in the future. Please help us spread the positive word by signing up for the newsletter and giving to www.getrealalliance.org.
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I have been greatly enlightened by many books that give me a great perspective on issues. I strongly recommend this book for its insights and analysis. Written by a long time environmentalist who by research became aware that the current prescriptions for climate change are actually bad for the environment and humanity, this is a need to read.
Here is a writeup about the book from the Environmental progress website.
“Apocalypse Never may be the most important book on the environment ever written.”
— Tom Wigley, climate scientist, University of Adelaide, former senior scientist National Center for Atmospheric Research
Michael Shellenberger has been fighting for a greener planet for decades. He helped save the world’s last unprotected redwoods. He co-created the predecessor to today’s Green New Deal. And he led a successful effort by climate scientists and activists to keep nuclear plants operating, preventing a spike of emissions.
But in 2019, as some claimed “billions of people are going to die,” contributing to rising anxiety, including among adolescents, Shellenberger decided that, as a lifelong environmental activist, leading energy expert, and father of a teenage daughter, he needed to speak out to separate science from fiction.
Despite decades of news media attention, many remain ignorant of basic facts. Carbon emissions peaked and have been declining in most developed nations for over a decade. Deaths from extreme weather, even in poor nations, declined 80 percent over the last four decades. And the risk of Earth warming to very high temperatures is increasingly unlikely thanks to slowing population growth and abundant natural gas.
Curiously, the people who are the most alarmist about the problems also tend to oppose the obvious solutions. Those who raise the alarm about food shortages oppose the expansion of fertilizer, irrigation, and tractors in poor nations. Those who raise the alarm about deforestation oppose concentrating agriculture. And those who raise the alarm about climate change oppose the two technologies that have most reduced emissions, natural gas and nuclear.
What’s really behind the rise of apocalyptic environmentalism? There are powerful financial interests. There are desires for status and power. But most of all there is a desire among supposedly secular people for transcendence. This spiritual impulse can be natural and healthy. But in preaching fear without love, and guilt without redemption, the new religion is failing to satisfy our deepest psychological and existential needs.
Connect with Michael on Twitter @ShellenbergerMD
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I have a collection of books on biochar but this recent book sounds like a winner for growers and gardeners. As you may know the ancients in Latin America created what is called Terra Preta using biochar. This created soil is still fertile a thousand years later. Acres USA has a number of books on biochar but are promoting this one which sounds great. Go to www.acresusa.com to buy.
$19.60 Regular price $28.00
Translated into English for the first time!
Author Caroline Pfützner introduces us to terra preta, or black earth of the Amazon, what is considered the most fertile soil in the world. Rightly so, because this ultra-rich, living material literally builds a permanent humus layer on the land. The true results of working with this almost miraculous substance are healthy plants and a rich harvest — without outside fertilizer inputs.
And even better, widespread use of terra preta would actively protect the climate.
This practical book by a world authority on the subject — available in English for the first time — practically guarantees success in production and application of terra preta whether in the garden, raised beds, larger growing operations, or simple balcony boxes. Practical examples from commercial-scale agriculture illustrate the true potential of terra preta.
#7566 • Softcover • 176 pages • Copyright 2019
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I have gotten tremendous learning from subscribing to Acres USA magazine and buying some of their books. https://www.acresusa.com/ is a great source that needs to be supported. Buying books and magazines on subjects that you believe in or want to support is voting with your dollars for that viewpoint. Charles Walters the founder and long time publisher is gone but his legacy continues and has influenced a large number of people. He promoted sustainable agriculture at a time of chemical farming dominance. One of the other things he railed against was unfair pricing of agricultural goods thru the commodity markets and the near monopoly grain trading companies. I experienced first hand the disasters of being forced to sell crops and cattle based on what the commodity exchanges say a crop or cows are worth with the horrible practice of allowing speculators to sell a commodity on the exchange with nothing more than a cash deposit of a fraction of a contracts value. Often times far more of a commodity trades on the exchange than the physical trade. Because a speculator has to only put a small amount down they can make a lot of money on their capital with small changes in price. Charles Walters campaigns for a full fair price for farmers and promoted the idea of a farmers union to demand them. The problem of agriculture is so many individual farmers selling to so few that no individual farmer no matter how large has an pricing power over the often only buyer in the area.
Here is Charles Walters bio from the Acres USA website
“Charles Walters is the founder of Acres U.S.A., and completed more than a dozen books as he edited Acres U.S.A., while co-authoring several others. A tireless traveler, Walters journeyed around the world to research sustainable agriculture, and his trip to China in 1976 inspired others to travel to this then-mysterious society. By the time of his death in 2009, Charles Walters could honestly say he changed the world for the better. He wrote a number of important books that broke the door wide open for further research on non-toxic farming methods”.
The Get Real Alliance stands on the shoulders of pioneering people like Charles Walters to try and promote their vision. While he had the happiness of seeing the organic farming and regenerative agriculture movements gain strength we still see his term “toxic rescue chemistry” being the dominant practice in agriculture with chemical companies and their companion genetically modified seed companies reaping a large share of gross agriculture income at handsome profit margins as they have near monopoly due to patenting of chemicals and seed. Yes today a farmer doesn’t buy a seed with no restriction as to its use but buys a bag of seed with a long legal license agreement printed on it that restricts the farmer to only growing grain for sale and prohibiting the saving of seed to replant as farmers had generally done especially with soybeans and wheat.
I would strongly encourage you to at least sign up for Acres USA free newsletter but really to subscribe to the print magazine which is full of good information for everyone whether you are a farmer or consumer. Today people are used to getting free information and publishing for profit which supports journalists and writers is in sharp decline. Paid subscriptions allow publications to run articles which are important but may not make advertisers happy. Especially those in the chemical farming area.
Vote with your dollars by supporting the Get Real Alliance and organizations that it promotes.
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There is growing awareness of biochar but it has yet to take off in a big way. The Get Real Alliance is a strong advocate of biochar with its carbon sequestration program funding significant biochar creation and application. Biochar has multiple positive aspects. In the massive carbon cycle if we are to stabilize or reduce carbon dioxide levels without purely focusing on very unrealistic reductions in carbon emissions then we need to sequester carbon from the air into the soil and plant life.
Carbon is sequestered in a variety of ways that are either short term or long term or nearly permanent. To stabilize CO2 levels or lower them we need to do all ways but long term and nearly permanent are desirable. Plant growth sequestration is either short term or long term depending on whether it is growthof an annual plant or added growth of a long lived plant like a tree. Making biochar from plants at the end of their life cycle permanently sequesters a good part of the sequestered carbon in the biomass. That alone is a big benefit to making biochar but the agronomic benefits are much greater in increased water and nutrient retention by the treated soil.
Biochar granules serve as sinks for water soluble nutrients preventing them from leaching out of the soil and making them available for soil life and plant use. Water is a solvent that will wash nutrients that are not tied up out of the soil profile. Biochar is uniquely able to keep nutrients in the soil in a plant available form.
Plants can put up to 50% of the carbon compounds they create by photosynthesis down into the soil by their root system. What happens to these compounds which serve as food for soil life depends on mineral levels and how friendly the soil is to soil life. Biochar serves as a home with its porous microstructure for microscopic soil life. Ideally a lot of the exuded carbohydrates from the roots are converted to long lasting compounds such as humus. Biochar by itself has no nutrients. It has to be charged with nutrients before it is applied or it will scavenge nutrients away from the plants in a farming situation. It is ideal to mix biochar with compost perhaps even in the compost making process for maximum benefit.
Biochar which is plant material that has been partially burned to leave behind only a pure carbon material that represents near permanent sequestration of some of the carbon extracted from the air by the plant with photosynthesis. Ideally this plant material is already dead so that no living tree is cut down to make biochar but only dead trees are used which are in the process of decaying which releases some of the carbon that has been removed from the air back into the atmosphere. Currently most efforts to make biochar harvest dead wood and burn it in oxygen limiting kilns at a temperature below the level that carbon will burn. Trees and plants are composed of a variety of carbon compounds along with water. Anyone who has been in the woods or forest knows that there is a lot of dead wood with much standing still.
Many north America forests have been ravaged by disease and parasitic insects leaving much of the timber dead or dying. A healthy forest is a carbon sink that each year removes more carbon dioxide from the air on a long term basis. Green trees don’t burn easily even if struck by lightning but due to all the dead and dying trees in many forests along with underbrush that is easily desiccated during dry times, forest fires are a major problem and release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air. We need a large scale program to remove dead trees and underbrush from the forest.
One of the challenges to convert America’s dead trees into biochar is getting the trees to the biochar machine. The solution maybe a new type of airship designed to lift up dead trees and use onboard equipment to chip the wood and burn it in an oxygen limiting way for power and biochar. You can visit www.allpowerlabs.com for more information on such systems although they aren’t thinking about airborne systems yet!! There is so much rugged land covered with dense forest where a large number of the trees are dead or dying that are far from a road. Practically it is nearly impossible to remove dead timber from a dense forest even very near a road as travel thru the forest with wood would be a manual job of great expense.
America has hundreds of millions of acres of forest full of dead trees that need to be removed often at very high tree density. One of the reasons why forests are dying is that the soil is demineralized so a tree removal effort also needs to include adding biochar, nutrients and rock dust to seedling trees and the soil to produce fast growing healthy trees that resist disease and insects. Currently America’s forest especially federally owned ones are just being left to either decompose or burn with no effort to replant badly damaged forests with trees that are resistant to disease and insect attack. A trip by car or air in the west often finds devastated forests where most of the trees are dead.
When most of the trees are dead or dying an acre of forest goes from sequestering substantial carbon in tree growth to actually being a net emitter of carbon dioxide just by decomposition. In the upcoming book, a carbon sequestration fund is proposed with funding coming from a tax on carbon emissions. It is very likely that harvesting dead trees with an aerial system to make biochar will cost a lot more per ton of sequestered carbon that some other processes but there are long term benefits to restoring a section of forest to health and preventing the release of a huge amount of carbon dioxide either by decomposition or worse fire.
In the case of making biochar from dead trees in a forest there are multiple benefits. Much of the carbon in the dead tree is converted to a permanent store of carbon and removed from the carbon cycle. If some of the biochar is added to the forest soil it increases tree growth and soil life. As there is so much dead wood most of the biochar can be used on other land such as desert and other lands to enrich it and increase carbon sequestration there.
There are a lot of good books on biochar available at www.acresusa.com that are recommended for those who want more detail and stay tuned to this blog for a lot more information on biochar, making it and its benefits. One of the things that the Get Real Alliance does is research on subjects such as biochar and we need money to fund research and advocate for change. Please go to the donate page and help us further the cause.