Biochar in the ground in Western Australia

John Deere harvester biochar trials in a wheat crop.

Biochar Trials in the Ground

Fertliser spreader spreading biochar on a paddock.
Using a multi-spreader to spread poultry litter biochar on canola stubble. This was part of our series of biochar trials with NRM groups.

May was a busy month for Energy Farmers. Tom Vogan, Wayne Phillips from AV Engineering in Northam and myself spent a week laying down our biochar trials with the grower groups we are working with. Mingenew Irwin Group (MIG), Moora Miling Pasture Improvement Group (MMPIG) and North Stirling Pallinup Natural Resources (NSPNRM) all participated in the trails which are designed to build the knowledge base of biochar in the broad scale cropping systems of Western Australia.

The biochar (sourced from Wandoo feedstock) was applied via two methods at various rates and will be seeded using half rates of traditional fertiliser. Biochar at 1 tonne/ha and 5 tonne/ha was spread and then incorporated by rotary harrows and 2 tonne/ha was “subsoiled” into the ground using the New Horizon Subsoil Extruder. Mingenew applied 10 tonnes/ha by spreading and then incorporation. All sites had lime applied at 1-2tonne/ha

We also used the Subsoiler to incorporate manures sourced from what we had on hand on farm. In Miling we applied the equivalent of 500kg/ha of sheep manure plus 1 tonne/ha of biochar. In Pallinup we made a mix of 220kg/ha of chook manure, 680kg/ha of sheep manure and 100kg/ha of biochar.

These rates are high but the idea of the subsoiler is to use materials sourced locally and extrude them into the soil to provide a “bank” of nutrients below the seed. It will be interesting to see how the subsoiled materials compare to more traditional fertilisers over time. All the trials will be harvested later in the year using a weigh trailer and we will publish the results.

The trials are very basic, we really just wanted to get some biochar in the ground, look at the handling issues, the potential to sequester carbon and to see if there is a yield response from biochar applications. We also wanted to get farmers thinking and talking about biochar and the potential to adapt it to their farming systems. In the future we will look at developing more scientific based trials using purpose made biochars.

Many thanks to Tony White of MMPIG, Bindi Isbister and Kevin Wise from NSPNRM for organising the sites and their help on the day. Also thanks to Jane Bradley and Paul Kelly from MIG for facilitating their trials. Want to learn more about biochar?

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