A Sustainable Future With Genesis Biochar

Sustainable Agriculture is described as the practice of farming using principles of ecology and the study of relationships between organisms and their environment. Say the word “sustainable,” and most people in agriculture agree it means sound stewardship of the air, water and soil, and improved quality of life for farming communities. However, sustainable does not always translate to increased profits.

Genesis Industries is about to change all that.  Our company has taken an ancient method known as making “terra preta” “black earth” and making it available to the commercial and residential gardener. We simply label this method “a new tool in the shed”. There are almost as many ways to achieve goals of sustainability, as there are farms and ranches in America, although most involve intensive labor or mechanical methods to achieve sustainable agriculture. Our new tools in the shed are the soil amendments of biochar and wood vinegar, which are aimed toward making it easier and less expensive to grow higher yield crops faster and easier with less inputs from chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Agriculture itself has changed dramatically since the end of World War II when food and fiber productivity soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization, and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allowed fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber in the U.S.

Although these changes have resulted in some positive effects accompanied by reduced  risks in farming, there has also been a significant increase in farming costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities. There are many scientists who believe that the widespread application of biochar can make an immediate impact on regenerating lost topsoil.

Today the movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policy makers and many others in the entire food system. By reintroducing an ancient, but highly successful method of increasing crop yields in a new efficient commercial method (i.e. using pyrolysis to generate biochar), we have created a super tool for farmers and gardeners alike. Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals—environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals.  People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, these themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture. Now, with the availability of biochar and wood vinegar, we can increase crop yields, while reducing inputs and maintaining high environmental standards. Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process. For farmers, the transition to sustainable agriculture normally requires a series of small, realistic steps. Family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go in the transition. It is important to realize that each small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the “sustainable agriculture continuum.” The key to moving forward is the will to take the next step. This is where Genesis offers the opportunity to deliver a more feasible method with increased profitability and sustainability.

Finally, it is important to point out that the attempt to reach the goal of sustainable agriculture is the responsibility of all participants in the system, including farmers, laborers, policy makers, researchers, retailers, and consumers. Each group has its own part to play and its own unique contribution to make to strengthen the sustainable agricultural community.

A common philosophy among sustainable agriculture practitioners is that a “healthy” soil is a key component of sustainability; that is, a healthy soil will produce healthy crop plants that have optimum vigor and are less susceptible to pests. While many crops have key pests that attack even the healthiest of plants, proper soil, water and nutrient management can help prevent some pest problems brought on by crop stress or nutrient imbalance. Furthermore, crop management systems that impair soil quality often result in greater inputs of water, nutrients, pesticides, and/or energy for tillage to maintain yields. Many test results across the U.S. and elsewhere are demonstrating that use of biochar and wood vinegar resolve many of the most difficult challenges facing farmers today.

In sustainable systems, the soil is viewed as a fragile and living medium that must be protected and nurtured to ensure its long-term productivity and stability. Methods to protect and enhance the productivity of the soil include using cover crops, compost and/or manures, reducing tillage, avoiding traffic on wet soils, and maintaining soil cover with plants and/or mulches. Conditions in most soils (warm, irrigated, and tilled) do not favor the buildup of organic matter. Regular additions of organic matter or the use of cover crops can increase soil aggregate stability, soil cultivation, and diversity of soil microbial life. With the use of biochar and wood vinegar as tools in the shed, maintaining viable and productive arable land is made easier.

A wide diversity of strategies and approaches is necessary to create a more sustainable food system. These range from specific and concentrated efforts to alter specific policies or practices to the longer-term tasks of reforming key institutions, rethinking economic priorities, and challenging widely held social values.

Genesis Industries believes biochar may give farmers a new tool to increase crop productivity and reduce chemical inputs while attacking the problem of global warming by providing a convenient way of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere, burying it, and improving the quality of the soil.

In the natural carbon cycle, plants absorb CO2 as they grow. When they die and decompose, CO2 returns to the atmosphere. If, however, they are subjected instead to pyrolysis, “the process of heating the biomass a near zero or low‐oxygen atmosphere” the result is charcoal or biochar, a substance that is mostly elemental carbon.

 

Although life is, in essence, a complicated form of carbon chemistry, living creatures cannot process carbon in its elemental form. Charcoal decays slowly. Bury it in the soil, and it will stay there. Some of the terra preta, is thousands of years old. Moreover, soil-containing biochar releases less methane and less nitrous oxide than its untreated counterparts, probably because the charcoal acts as a catalyst for the destruction of these gases. Since both of these chemicals are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, this effect helps combat global warming. The process of making biochar also creates beneficial by‐products, such as those produced by our Genesis Industries pyrolysis machine, wood vinegar and energy in the form of syngas.

Images courtesy of: Digitalart, DanWinnond