Agriculture and climate change are highly integrated. Agriculture is a significant greenhouse gas emitter but also vulnerable to the risks and impacts of a rapidly changing climate. At the same time, agriculture is uniquely positioned to play an important role in removing carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it into soils.

Agriculture and Climate Change

Agriculture and climate change are interconnected in a cyclical way. Agriculture contributes to climate change through the release of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide during livestock rearing and crop cultivation. On the other hand, climate change impacts agriculture by altering weather patterns, leading to unpredictable rainfall and temperature changes, which can affect crop yields and livestock health.

Still, solutions are being developed today that could help agricultural become the world first “net-zero” sector.

The Promise of Biochar

Biochar is a carbon-rich soil amendment product that is produced by converted biomass and other types of organic material (including agricultural residue and food waste) into a stable form of carbon.

Once produced, biochar has important characteristics that can be highly beneficial to soil health and crop growth:

    • A high-carbon content that can help increase soil health and resilience.
    • A porous structure that allows for increased cation exchange capacity to attract and retain moisture and nutrients.
    • A pH that makes can help improve and reclaim distressed or acidic soils.

Nutrient Management 

Crop productivity increases when nutrients are kept in the soil and used by plants. Biochar has both a high carbon content as well as nutrients (potassium, phosphorus, and nitrogen) which are central to plant growth and quality. Biochar’s structure also helps with nutrient retention, helping keep the cost of commercial fertilizers down and reducing on-field nutrient run off. This consequently improves downstream river and lake water quality by reducing algae blooms.

Emissions Reductions

The use of commercial fertilizers can increase nitrous oxide emissions. Biochar can help address these emissions in two ways. First, as a source of nitrogen, phosphorous and other micronutrients it can help growers reduce frequency (and cost) of fertilizer applications. Second, its porous structure can help attract and retain fertilizers, thereby helping reduce emissions.

Resiliency and Productivity

Healthy soils grow healthy crops. Given its highly porous structure, biochar can hold and moderate moisture on fields. This helps to reduce run off and erosion during heavy rains and maintain soil moisture levels during periods of drought. As well, biochar helps decrease compaction, allowing roots to grow deeper and stronger.

Biochar’s high pH level is also helpful in acidic soils, providing micro-habitat for beneficial soil organisms, consequently improving soil health, productivity and resilience. 

Carbon Sequestration

Agricultural producers have the potential to “lock” tremendous amounts of carbon in their soils. Enhanced soil carbon not only supports crop growth and resiliency but is one of the more cost effective “carbon removal” technologies available today, one that can also generate income from developing carbon markets.

Peatmoss Replacement

Peatmoss is a valuable horticultural product. However, it is extracted from vulnerable ecosystems that play a crucial role in global carbon sequestration. At just 3% of the Earth’s land area, peat bogs contain an immense 30% of the world’s soil carbon stocks, making them the second-largest carbon sink after oceans.

Biochar exhibits remarkable properties such as excellent structural stability for aggregate formation, and water and air holding capacity, making it an ideal component for use in growing media. Blending biochar into soilless growing media affects the physical, chemical, and biological properties. Studies have shown adding biochar to greenhouse growing media can increase tomato and pepper yields while reducing fertilizer use significantly