Charcoal could be the answer to make farming more environmentally friendly

Cows trial biochar at a farm in Lincolnshire
Research news

Wednesday 13 November 2019

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Research trials are being carried out a farm to test whether feeding cattle charcoal can cut emissions from livestock.

The investigation, which is being carried out by Coventry University and Innovative Farmers has been garnering attention after appearing on Countryfile on 10 November.

As part of the trials cattle on a farm in Lincolnshire are being fed biochar, which is a form of charcoal created to improve soils. The substance could reduce methane and ammonia emissions from cattle and limit the impact of manure on waterways by reducing nitrate leaching. It could also potentially benefit the cattle by absorbing toxins and reducing parasitic worms as well as increasing the carbon levels in soil thereby reducing erosion.
Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network that enables farmer-led research helped bring about the field-labs to test the research in the real world. So far the results have been positive but more research is needed so the field lab has been extended with several farmers in Wales now set to trial biochar feed on their farms over the next year.

Cattle and other grazing animals are a producer of ammonia and methane and livestock farming has an environmental impact. The biochar research has the potential to reduce the emissions as well as have benefits for the soil as Coventry University researchers and farmers test the impact of biochar-feed manure on grass growth and soil health as part of the trials.

Biochar has the potential to shake up the farming industry and results so far have been promising, although we are looking at expanding the trials to other farms to compare initial findings. Initiatives like this show that the farming industry can make real progress towards reducing its environmental impact and we are continuing to engage more farmers so that they can become part of the solution for climate change.

Donna Udall, Research Assistant at Coventry University's Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience

Biochar can not only help the environment but help the bottom line of farms across the UK. With research opportunities like Innovative Farmers, Coventry University and the Soil Association we can look to a truly sustainable future for British farming.

Richard Copley, who is leading the research at his farm in Grantham

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.

Helen Aldis, Development Manager at Innovative Farmers

To find out more about the biochar research project visit the research page

To find out more about the field lab please visit the Innovative Farmers website where trial updates and results are shared open source. 

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