Plants draw significant amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Once used, agricultural and food waste can be converted into stable biocarbon and integrated back into agricultural soils.
The Power of Plants
Plants are superheroes, using the power of photosynthesis to draw enough carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to offset up to a third of the world’s carbon emissions.
The Earth’s total amount of plant-life contains between 450-650 gigatonnes of carbon and the soils that support plants approximately 2,700 gigatonnes.
Agricultural crops can play an important role in atmospheric carbon removal. There are a total of 65,135 grain and oilseed farms in Canada, 17,626 hay farms, 7,101 fruit growers, and 5,076 vegetable growers. On the Canadian prairies there are over 125 million acres of farmland that could sequester vast amounts of carbon.
The Problem of Organic Waste
While plants are effective at removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, they often end up as waste, releasing carbon back into the atmosphere in the form of methane, and even more powerful greenhouse gas.
Canada generates over 35 million tonnes of agricultural and food waste each year, much of which ends up in landfills.
The Promise of Biochar
Biocarbon is a stable form of carbon produced from organic waste, such as food waste or agricultural waste. Once formed it is chemically stable and can remain in this state for hundreds to thousands of years.
Biocarbon is light, porous and suitable as a soil amendment product. When mixed into soils, it can draw in and hold water, nutrients and beneficial microbes like a sponge.
Key benefits include:
- maintaining soil moisture (supporting climate resiliency and increasing crop yields during dry periods)
- holding nutrients in the soils (lowering the use and cost of fertilizer applications, reducing nutrient runoff and improving river and lake water quality)
- providing a micro-habitat for beneficial soil organisms (improving soil health and productivity)
Given biochar’s properties such as high porosity, high surface area and high cation exchange capacity, it makes an excellent additive for reducing soil bulk density and increasing water retention. Micropores can retain moisture, nutrients, and microbes that improve the soil health, and can even alter soil aggregate formation (the clusters of soil that make up the soil structure) which then affects the soil-water-plant relationship. The alkaline pH of biochar has demonstrated to neutralize soil acidity.
Biochar can also be rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and phosphorus. The addition of biochar during planting season has demonstrated an improvement in plant yield and quality.