Many farmers in the US buy federally insured crop insurance every year as a way to stay afloat when weather, insects or other disasters take a chunk out of their yields or revenues. Perhaps there is a case to be made for biochar as a risk management strategy as a kind of ‘soil insurance’. My thoughts du jour on this are as follows:
Minimize negative weather related impacts. Droughts are increasingly common and have been the cause of enormous loss of crops in the past few years. Biochar has been shown to improve soil’s water holding capacity which can help plants survive longer and reduce the need for irrigation. The frequency of heavy rainfall is also on the uptick and often carries off large amounts of productive topsoil. Floods can leave toxins on soils rendering crops unfit for human consumption. Biochar can help neutralize such unwanted deposits.
Improve yield. While the impact biochar can have on yield varies widely, generally speaking and used properly, biochar can improve yield, especially in poor soils or under challenging weather conditions
Improve soil health. Pests can take a toll on crops. Research has shown that biochar improves microbial activity in soils which can help improve resistance to pests which could mean fewer pesticides are needed. Bacteria such as e coli in soil can be deadly to humans and costly to farmers. A few studies have indicated that adding biochar to soil is effective for inactivating certain pathogens (e.g. EHEC, STEC and Salmonella) in soil. Also some soils have toxic levels of arsenic or copper from previous pesticide use (abuse!) which can be taken up by crops. Biochar is able to render these toxins unavailable to plants.
Decrease negative environment impacts. Nutrient run-off from farm land has caused massive dead zones in rivers, lakes and oceans to the extent that many regions are now beginning to regulate the amount and timing of nutrient additions. I would guess that fines will eventually be assessed once those regulations are rolled out. Biochar placed in swales or added over fields can reduce this run-off which not only helps local water bodies, but I would think local communities would be happier too if their lakes have less algae so they can get back to swimming or fishing in them.
Now if only there was a way to get the government to subsidize this kind of soil insurance like they do for crop insurance!