Renewable Farming

A soil amendment with high-value soil health benefits — at amazingly low cost

Bio-Mass Renewable Technologies (BRT) of Ladora, southeast Iowa, is offering a 60% biochar soil amendment product for $25 per ton, locally. It has other components, such as nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur and trace elements. And it’s about 30% by weight of diatomaceous earth, which adds mineral and micronutrients such as zinc. Not only that, but there’s a sweetener to multiply beneficial soil microbes: a lacing of high-fructose corn syrup.

February 7, 2020 — The value of biochar is verified by crop growers who are buying bulk biochar — highly porous carbon — as a soil biolife enhancer. One biochar maker, Oregon Biochar Solutions, prices 20-ton truckloads at $1,257 per ton.

For centuries, biochar provided crop-growing stability for rain-forest soils across the Amazon Basin. The indigenous tribes made charcoal and mixed it with soil, enabling their fields to retain nutrients and biological life despite heavy rainfall. The carbon remained stable and provided habitat for beneficial organisms plus chelation points for crop nutrients. Researchers have found layers of biochar-reinforced soil throughout South America’s tropics. 

The blend of biochar and diatomaceous earth offers a cleansing filter system as a final step in making high-fructose corn syrup. The mix of biochar and diatomaceous earth is regularly refreshed, and the saturated filtrate becomes a byproduct. BRT analyzed it and obtained a land application permit from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. A typical farmer applies 500 to 2,000 lbs. per acre.

A Midwest Lab analysis indicates that DEcarbon contains about $17 worth of nitrogen, phosphate, sulfur and calcium. In addition, analysis of the humic acid content shows another $27 worth of humus, for a total nutritional benefit of almost $44 per ton. You get that for a cost of $25 per ton. (Added delivery cost beyond 60 miles from Muscatine, IA)

The analysis shows no heavy metals. Now for some opinion: We’d expect the product, which BRT labels “DEcarbon” intended as a soil conditioner, will have even more value to enhance cation exchange capacity, water holding capacity, and soil tilth. That’s why growers are paying more than $1,000 per ton for high-quality biochar. The biochar in DEcarbon originates from lumber mills in the southern U.S., mostly southern pine sawdust and chips which have been carbonized in high-temperature, limited-oxygen processors.

Keith says the DEcarbon can be stored outside and remains stable. It won’t freeze, and is easy to spread with a conventional fertilizer spinner buggy or truck. For more information, call Keith Schlapkohl at 563-349-8630.

Update Feb. 8:  We’re also on the trail of a report detailing a large hog producer’s benefits from installing Pursanova water treatment systems in his hog buildings. Indications are: Better feed conversion, healthier animals, and reduced pit odor. A leading farm consultant who advised on the installation is digging out the facts for us.