Biochar could help tackle nitrate leaching
Welsh farmers are being invited to test whether feeding cattle biochar can reduce nitrate leaching and improve soil health.
The move follows farm-based research in an Innovative Farmers field lab indicated it could reduce nitrate leaching.
Initial results from manure testing on a farm in Lincolnshire suggested that feeding cattle biochar – a type of charcoal – decreased nitrate levels in the manure.
This may be because more nitrogen compounds in the feed were converted into protein by the biochar while inside the animal, and it offers the potential to reduce nitrate leaching into water courses when slurry is used as fertiliser.
But more trials are needed to build on these findings so Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network that enables farmer-led research, has hosted a meeting in Wales in October to share the results so far and extend the field lab.
Farmer Richard Copley, who led on the research, said: “Results from my farm have been encouraging, but we need more farm-based research into the impact of biochar feed on ammonia emissions, carbon sequestration and animal health.”
The farmer-led trial is in partnership with researchers from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, who are also carrying out pot trials to see whether biochar-feed manure has any impact on grass growth and soil health.
It is also thought biochar could benefit cattle by absorbing toxins and reducing parasitic worms, as well as reducing ammonia emissions.
Donna Udall, researcher at CAWR who has worked with Richard on this trial, said: “As a scientist from a farming family I know that when you’re in the lab it’s easy to get so lost in detail that you forget the bigger picture.
"Working with farmers means I am constantly aware of all the pressures farmers are under and the variations that can happen on different farms, so I’m keen to look at the results from other farmers to see how they compare to the initial findings.”
Helen Aldis, Innovative Farmers development manager, said: “This interesting farmer-led research suggests biochar could have an important role to play in reducing environmental impacts of food and farming. Sharing findings through networks like Innovative Farmers allows farmers to find sustainable and practical solutions to farming and food production challenges.”
The launch meeting will be held on Thursday, October 3, at Abergavenny Community Centre and is open to farmers interested in joining the field lab or finding out more about the results so far.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up to the event or register at Eventbrite.
To find out more about the field lab visit innovativefarmers.org where you can sign up to the network and access field lab results and information for free.