Soil Health Champion
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For some years a core group in Manjimup has been championing the agricultural use of biochar. During 2010 Warren Catchments Council hosted a number of presentations, one conveying information about wheat trials undertaken by DAFWA in the northern Wheatbelt that was showing promising results. This was in the era of the Carbon Farming Initiative when there was a carbon price and concern about developing carbon sequestration methodologies.
A local farmer, Doug Pow, contemplated a low-tech strategy to incorporate biochar into soils in our area where air seeders and similar machinery commonly used in broadacre farming is not economically feasible. He adapted an Austrian practice of improving soil fertility by feeding cattle trace minerals that they could deposit via their manure, on inaccessible steep slopes. Doug hypothesised that by feeding the biochar to cattle and utilising deep tunnelling dung beetles, stable carbon could be sequestered at virtually nil cost. He consulted Dr Bernard Doube, an internationally recognised dung beetle authority, to determine whether there were likely adverse impacts on the beetle at all stages of its life cycle. What was unknown was whether the beetle would bury char from the manure or leave it on the surface. Coupled with this query was a follow up the trial of German veterinarian, Achim Gerlach, whose research findings after feeding dairy cattle 300g/day of biochar (shedded environment) showed significant veterinary benefits to the livestock (reduced incidence of mastitis and lower somatic cell count, fewer digestion disorders, hoof problems, post-partum issues, increased butterfat content and improved fertility).