BIOCHAR is a product from Energy Farmers Australia (EFA) which was discussed at the Talkin’ Healthy Soils conference at Dalwallinu on Tuesday, March 13.
Energy Farmers Australia’s director Euan Beamont told the audience of 35 people about the benefit for healthy soils that he had seen using the product.
EFA company was formed in 2010 with Mr Beamont’s business partner Tom Vogan, an engineer in the oil and gas sector.
“Being the farmer, I am the idealist and being the engineer, he is the realist,” said Mr Beamont, who farms at Mullewa.
He started the business because he believed there was an opportunity for farmers to turn their agricultural waste into something else.
EFA moved into biochar development and is trialling the product on many farms.
“Our journey into biochar began with a phone call from a poultry farmer who said he wanted to create energy out of his waste, so we put the design together and built the technology,” he said.
Biochar is made from agriculture residue such as poultry litter, stubble, lupin trash and wood stock that is slowly burnt under restricted oxygen conditions resulting in a charcoal.
“We process anything from macadamia shells to spinifex and we are trying to build a database of different types of char,” he said.
EFA had to install a dryer into their design so the moisture content remained about 15 per cent.
Testing the material beforehand and how much energy they are getting out of the process is part of a databank EFA is building.
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“Afterwards there is always an analysis of the nutrients itself,” he said.
Topical at the conference was the importance of microbes and carbon with Mr Beamont explaining how biochar benefits the habitat for soil microbes and also increases carbon catchment.
“For every tonne of biochar that is put in the ground now, there is the potential to generate carbon credits, which is makes biochar a market on the move,” he said.
One trial that EFA is working on is a cucumber farm in Walkaway where the soil is very sandy and the farmer has had problems with nutrient leaching.
Biochar was used to see if a poultry litter mix would hold in the nutrients.
Mr Beamont said rows of biochar were laid and incorporated it into the soil of a depth about 300 millimetres.
He said the trial showed biochar increased fertiliser efficiency and with 13 kilograms of biochar, 9kg of poultry manure and 5kg of Nitrofoska, the cucumber farmer produced a gross margin of about $487 a tonne.
Poultry litter biochar is valued at about $750/t with other biochar products ranging from $100-$1000/t, it’s no cheap investment but Mr Beamont is certain of the benefits that the product can bring to soils.