The ‘4 pour 1000’ Initiative & Biochar


2015 was dubbed the ‘Year of Soils’ by the UN, but sadly the biochar world let the opportunity of celebrating what biochar could do for soils pass relatively unpromoted. The French are offering up another great opportunity for soils to be in the spotlight with their newly announced ‘4 pour 1000’ initiative, and though they don’t (yet) mention biochar as one of the possible solutions, it is, in fact, one of the best ones available (IMHO).

Basically the 4 parts per 1,000 initiative is highlighting many of the same things the UN hoped to spotlight last year: the massive soil degradation and erosion which the skin of the planet has suffered due to deforestation, industrial agriculture, and just plain old human abuse over the past 100+ years has led to food insecurity, climate change (etc.)  and we need to do something about it. The idea is that various different sustainable agricultural practices can lead to increasing soil carbon which not only improves soil fertility and food security, but also rebalances carbon levels by pulling more out of the air and putting it into the soil thereby breaking or slowing down the carbon cycle. They mention agroecology, agroforestry, conservation, landscape management as possible solutions but leave out the nitty gritty on measurements and specific tools.

Allow me to muse for a few moments about what ‘4 pour 1,000’ might look like from a biochar perspective. How much biochar might you need to add to boost soil carbon by 4 parts per 1000 (as in .4% of 1,000)? One could interpret that to mean that for every 1,000 lbs of soil the carbon content should increase by .4% per year or 4 lbs of carbon (if your biochar has 80% carbon content then you’d need 5 lbs of it). However doing things by weight gets very tricky due to this little thing called moisture content, so working with volume might be a bit easier. One cubic yard of soil covers roughly a 10’ x 10’ garden to a depth of 3” and contains just under 202 gallons of soil (and for those of you that just have to think in terms of weight, ideal soils might weigh between 1,700 – 2,200 lbs per cubic yard). Four percent of that would be roughly 1 cubic foot of high carbon biochar (or somewhere in the vicinity of 8 – 10 gallons) but a mere .4% would be about 1 gallon per cubic yard of soil!

Perhaps the biochar community should join the ‘4 pour 1,000’ initiative by way of creating various ‘4 pour 1000’ demo gardens around the globe where soil carbon level is monitored before biochar, then after biochar and then annually. Gardens with annual biochar additions (let’s say at the ,4% level for 10 years) versus a single addition of biochar ‘(let’s say at the 4% level) could be compared to gardens where compost or livestock manures are added each year. (Given the low carbon levels [20 – 40%] in manures, you would definitely have to add a lot more of that odiferous stuff!) My guess is that the biochar gardens will not only hit the .4% targets more easily than other soil amendments, but that the yields on these gardens will be very impressive!

What do you say fellow charistas?

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