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The Promise of Biochar for Newfoundland Agriculture

NOTE: This opportunity has expired or is an event which has already taken place.

On Saturday, Oct. 19 and Sunday, Oct. 20, two free public workshops will be held in St. John’s to promote the agricultural use of biochar, an organic soil amendment which is reported to improve soil health, restore degraded land, increase soil fertility and increase crop yields. The workshops are organized by Common Ground Community Development Corporation, with the support of the Agricultural Research Initiative, in collaboration with Dr. Robert Helleur, Professor of Chemistry at Memorial University, and NL Organics, a farming operation based in Portugal Cove.

Biochar is a form of charcoal produced by baking organic matter, resulting in a porous, carbonaceous material which when added to soil, increases microbial activity, increase water retention and reduce the need for fertilizers. By boosting yields and reducing the need for agricultural inputs, biochar can have very positive economic impacts on farming operations. Additionally, because farm waste material can be converted to a valuable product, farmers can spend less on waste disposal and simultaneously benefit from the creation of a valuable agricultural product.

Biochar also has a number of significant environmental benefits. Reduced use of fertilizers contributes to long term soil health and reduces runoff into waterways. The production of biochar can also also generate bio-energy, reducing fossil fuel use. Generating biochar from waste reduces stress on existing landfills. And, adding biochar to soil reduces emissions of nitrous oxide and methane and sequesters carbon in soil. According to the International Biochar Initiative, sustainably produced biochar could store 2.2 gigatons of carbon annually by 2050.

The October workshops will be of special interest to local farmers, gardeners, horticulturalists, nursery and greenhouse operators, landscapers, agricultural industry representatives, environmental organizations and food security advocates. Saturday’s workshop will consist of a day-long session on the benefits of biochar, and Sunday’s workshop will be a hands-on afternoon workshop demonstrating small scale biochar production using inexpensive materials.

Saturday’s workshop will also feature a presentation by Dr. Helleur, who will discuss the findings of his recent study of biochar produced from locally sourced waste materials that would ordinarily be destined for landfills.

To register, or for more information contact: Lori Heath, rootconnection@gmail.com, (709)753-3594.

Common Ground Community Development Corporation promotes, supports and implements environmentally and economically sustainable community development initiatives in St. John’s and the surrounding region. Recent projects include The St. John’s Safer Soil Project, which promotes safe gardening and recreation in areas with elevated soil lead levels, and an urban demonstration garden at the Gathering Place in downtown St. John’s. It has conducted a small scale biochar field trial on the site for the past three years.

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