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Research On Biochar Shows Promise For Soil Fertility, Carbon Sequestration

management out of the Champaign extension center in Central Illinois. “The use of biochar is not new,” he said. “It’s been

Biochar And Its Possibilities B

BETTY VALLE GEGG-NAEGER MidAmerica Farmer Grower


iochar and its potential use in agriculture today is an intriguing topic dear to the heart of Dave Shiley, extension educator in natural resource

around since Amazonian cultures, but research on its potential implications for agriculture is really be- ginning to pique the interest of Department of Energy and other groups because of its additional potential for carbon sequestration.” Biochar is produced by the heating of any kind of

organic material to a temperature between 200 to 800 degrees celsius under low oxygen conditions. “The result is a carbon structure, similar to char-

coal, that is very porous,” Shiley continued. “One benefit of this porous carbon structure is that it pro- vides lots of surface area for microbes to attach, which has benefits to soil health. The porous struc- ture of biochar also has the potential for capturing and holding ammonia and phosphorus, keeping it in the soil where plants can utilize it.” This can be beneficial for the plants and also for the

environment as biochar reduces runoff of these com- pounds into lakes and streams. “Biochar also can increase the CEC or cation ex-

change capacity of the soil; therefore, it would have the greatest potential benefit in low fertility soils,” he

said. Cations are positively charged ions (ammonium

(NH4+), potassium (K+), calcium (Ca2+), magnesium (Mg2+)). In general, the less clay and organic matter in the soil, the lower the CEC, according to Nancy Holm, coordinator of the Illinois Biochar Group and Sponsored Research coordinator for Illinois Sustain- able Technology Center. Shiley said biochar has the potential to be used as

a mechanism to hold nutrients in the soil, particu- larly in sandy soil where leaching potential is high. “It would be a mechanism to capture or absorb

those nutrients, keep them in the soil column so the plants could utilize the nutrients, whether they are artificially applied or naturally there in the soil. “Biochar does have a high pH,” Shiley said. “There-

fore, it has a liming effect. The pH of the biochar is af- fected by the temperature by which it is processed and can be as high as 10. So, biochar could be pro- duced to target a particular pH range.” According to Holm, “The type of feedstock used also

determines the pH of the biochar. Before applying biochar to agricultural soils, especially alkaline soils, the effects of pH changes on the particular soil need to be considered to prevent a detrimental result.” The interest in research using biochar as a soil

amendment is relatively new; but if you compare the growth of a plant, corn or any other plant, in soil that has been amended with biochar to those

Dave Shiley, Extension Educator in natural resource management out of the Champaign extension center in Central Illinois explains the use of biochar. Photo by John LaRose, Jr.

grown in unamended low fertility soils, a visual dif- ference in plant growth is apparent. Hopefully in the near future there will be yield data available from biochar research projects that can quantify the ben- efits of biochar as well as any problems to consider. “Another thing that is interesting in terms of


senior economist and director of the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research In- stitute (FAPRI). The Institute will begin with registration

at 10:30 a.m. and conclude with the 6 p.m. dinner program. For registration in-

formation, contact Travis Dixon of the MU Conference Office, 573-882-6059 or For information on the program or speakers, contact Kat- rina Turner at the Commercial Agricul- ture Program, or 573-882-0378.

∆ IPT Bull Sale Info On Web Site

2012 IPT Bull Sale on the Web at “ht tp://www. IPTBul The IPT Bull Sale will be the lead off


event for the Illinois Beef Expo that will be held from Thursday, February 23 through Sunday, February 26. The Bull Sale is scheduled for Thursday, February 23 at the Illinois State Fair- grounds Livestock Center in Spring- field. The sale accepts older as well as yearling bulls, with the birth date range from January 1, 2010 through March 2011. The 2012 sale will maintain the same

six trait power score with equal em- phasis on EPDs for birth weight, wean- ing weight, yearling weight, maternal milk, percent intramuscular fat and ribeye area.

The age divisions will be the same

with the fall December 2010 bulls being included with the yearlings. Also, the remaining Junior Division (July through November 2010) and Senior Division (January through June 2010) will be combined and sell together. Also, the Senior Division WDA will re- main the same (2.3 WDA) while the Junior Division WDA will be 2.6 for the July through September 2010 and 2.8 WDA for the October and November Juniors. However, the WDA for the yearling December 2010 bulls will be 2.9 while all the January through March yearlings will need to meet the


eedstock breeders can obtain a copy of the Rules and Regulations and Nomination Form for the

WDA of 3.0. All bulls will be tested for Bovine

Viral Diarrhea (BVD) using the Persist- ently Infected (PI) ear notch screening system. Also, all Breeding Soundness Evaluation (BSE) performed on all 2010 and January 2011 bulls must be conducted by a veterinarian. Breeders are eligible sell up to six

bulls in the sale as long as they have a Power Score of 55 or below. Those same breeders can nominate more than six bulls and these will be cata- loged as long as they Power Score in the top 50 percent of the bulls in the Pre-Sale Catalog. Also, consignors not selling bulls in 2010 or 2011 sales are still limited to nominating two bulls. There are two options for Angus

breeders to secure carcass data on their bulls. One is to use a certified field technician and the other is the use of DNA Markers or Analysis for the carcass traits of marbling and ribeye through Igenity or Pfizer. Nomination deadline and fees are

three tiered with the following dates and costs: November 15, $75; Decem- ber 1, $100; and December 15, $125. Besides


“ht tp://www. IPTBul web site a copy of the Rules and Regulations and Nom- ination Form can also be obtained by writing to Dave Seibert at 300 North Street, Washington, Illinois 61571. Contact can also be made by calling ei- ther the Cell at 309-339-3694 or Home phone at 309-444-9355. Another con- tact method includes the email of seib-

∆ October 21, 2011 / MidAmerica Farmer Grower • 29

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