A 3000-year-old Practice May Revolutionize the Future of Farming

ag_blackgold.jpgThe next revolution in agriculture and greenhouse gas reduction may be a 3000-year old farming practice of adding biomass charcoal to the soil. The practice was re-discovered by archeologists who were studying a site in the central-Amazon basin. Some 1500 years earlier the indigenous tribes had enriched the soil using charcoal from animal bone and tree bark. The soil remains today some of the richest and most fertile soil yet found.

Scientists from the American Chemical Society have begun a five-year study of the use of biomass charcoal for soil enrichment in order to understand its impact on fertilization, soil carbon changes, crop productivity and any impact on the microorganisms in the soil.

The practice holds promise for several reasons:

  1. Soil need only be fertilized once with this method and the effect lasts for hundreds to thousands of years.
  2. The resulting agricultural method is carbon-negative since the enriched soil traps and holds carbon in the soil, which may offer significant benefits to decreasing global warming from agriculture and reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  3. The charcoal required would be made from biomass like compost, leaves, wood chips and organic matter resulting in a non-toxic and stable fertilizer.
  4. Smoke generated during the burning process, called pyrolysis, could even be collected and cooled to use as a bio-oil renewable energy source.
  5. The practice could be a low-cost way to enrich soil in the most impoverished areas where poor soil quality and drought have led to high rates of hunger and malnutrition.

Scoring points on the altruism scale, scientists involved say they will not seek a patent on the process if the study is successful. They want the practice they call “Black Gold Agriculture” put into use as soon and as widely as possible. It’s a fascinating prospect that an answer to help save our earth would come from that very earth, and was in use for thousands of years.

Currently the only foreseeable downsides to the approach is the cost to transport the biochar mass and the need for different farming tools to spread the product over large areas.

13 thoughts on “A 3000-year-old Practice May Revolutionize the Future of Farming”

  1. oh how altruistic of them they won’t seek a patent on something people across the world have been doing for at the very least 3000 years…thank god we have such ethical people in our midst

  2. Interesting…so if I understand this right, charcoal, like that of what you have left in your fire pit, should be mixed with your soil to produce better soil for thousands of years…Wonder if that would work on my sand plane???

  3. Interesting…so if I understand this right, charcoal, like that of what you have left in your fire pit, should be mixed with your soil to produce better soil for thousands of years…Wonder if that would work on my sand plane???

  4. Reads Very Interesting. Will Horticultural Charcoal work for this, is it close enough or the same a Biomass (Charcoal)? Also how much should be added?

  5. You don’t need to burn compost to just extract the charcoal… You can use the whole batch, and get a bunch of other nutrients too, without burning away everything else… This is really nothing new. Then, I guess you’re talking about large-scale farms, then it’s probably a good idea, but I have a feeling Monsatan isn’t going to let anything good happen to the farming industry.

  6. I remember while growing up in NY we heated with coal we would put the ashes in the garden area. And we always had super veggies

  7. The recognition of biochar and terra preta has spread swiftly since the first symposium just a year ago in Australia. In that time Christine Jones, an Australian soil scientist, has introduced the Australian Soil Carbon Sequestration Scheme, a method for paying landowners for measurable CO2 increases in topsoil achieved through restorative management. The sequestration benefits of biochar only begin with the CO2 it holds. The enriched top soil and increased biomass multiple the amount of sequestered carbon. And don’t forget the biopetroleum dsplacing fossil petroleum.

  8. If I am not mistaken, biomass (charcoal) could be produced almost anywhere. I have lumps of charcoal in my wood stove every time I clean it out, and will soon be adding it to my garden. Also, there are web sites that tell how to make charcoal on anywhere from a small to a much larger scale. Seems like in areas where there would be a need for a large ammount of it, it could be produced at the nearest site that had the materials to make it with, rather than having to ship it for very long distance.
    Don’t use commercialally made charcoal in your garden though. I’m pretty sure it has things added to it that may not be good for your garden.

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