The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), in partnership with Southern Sonoma County Resource Conservation District as lead applicant, recently submitted an application for federal funding under USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant program. The proposed project features a launch of biochar production from local biomass, field trials with local farmers, and education and outreach on the multiple benefits of biochar including improving soil tilth, agricultural yields, and renewable energy. The technology used to produce biochar would be the award-winning Adam Retort, licensed and manufactured in North America by New England Biochar.
If funded, the grant would allow development of best practices in the production and application of biochar, and would facilitate federal program delivery under the Farm Bill’s Environmental Quality Insurance Program serving farmers, ranchers and the community-at-large. This project showcases another excellent, local example of public/private partnership to leverage private, local and public funding in a demonstration project.
The grant features strong partnerships focusing on sustainable ag practices, ag economy, jobs, carbon sequestration, and renewable energy. Partners include: Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Water Agency, Regional Climate Protection Authority, Sotoyome Resource Conservation District and the North Coast Resource Conservation & Development Council and participating farmers/ranchers. If awarded, project would commence fall 2012.
SBI has garnered local and statewide recognition and support in it’s efforts to introduce biochar at a practical, community scale from Senator Noreen Evans, Assemblymember Jared Huffman, Sonoma County’s 1st District Supervisor, Valerie Brown, Sonoma councilmember Laurie Gallian and Rohnert Park councilmember Jake Mackenzie. SBI is also receiving national recognition as the organizer and host of the 2012 USBI National Biochar Conference to be held July 29th through August 1st at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park.
We would like to thank the following people for joining SBI and helping us to fulfill our mission of education and promotion of the biochar industry:
Kelpie Wilson, Michael Wittman, Philip Small, Frank Shields, Adam Seger, Janet Laughlin & Renel Anderson.
In a recent letter to Assemblymembers Perez, Blumenfield, Gordon and Feuntes and Senators Steinberg, Leno, Simitian and Kehoe, initiated by CalCAN, the California Climate and Agriculture Network, the Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI) urged that biochar, a climate response tool and a material to benefit agriculture, be considered for investment under the cap-and-trade fee revenue that help meet the objectives of AB 32 climate response law. SBI strongly supports investing a portion of the fee revenues in agricultural activities that reduce GHG emissions and actively sequester carbon. Such investments in our communities can create jobs and spur innovation.
With the Air Resources Board moving forward with the first auctions of allowances in the summer and fall of 2012, the Legislature must appropriate auction revenues. It is crucial that discussions continue to determine how best to invest these funds to meet the goals of AB 32 and to provide the greatest economic benefits. There must be urgent considerations about how best to allocate these resources.
The Governor’s budget and the Assembly Speaker’s bill, AB 1532, outline cap-and-trade fee funding areas, including funding to “reduce (GHG) emissions associated with water use and supply, land and natural resource conservation and management, and sustainable agriculture.” Though not specified, we would add the imperative of capturing existing atmospheric carbon through biomass, processing it into biochar and sequestering it productively in agriculture.
Any legislative appropriation for a portion of the funds should go to agriculture in the first years of the program. A delay will mean lost opportunities to achieve GHG emission reductions in the food and farm sector and to sequester carbon beneficially within agriculture.
Potential GHG emission reductions in agriculture are substantial, and sequestering biochar carbon can help. Biochar production is an innovative renewable biomass energy source, aids on-farm conservation measures, offsets some fossil fuel inputs, reduces biomass handling transportation emissions and sequesters carbon that helps build soil. Funding carbon sequestration efforts will aid in the preservation of farmland and the institution of the family farmer. With the right policies including support for biochar, agriculture can meaningfully reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, sequester significant volumes of carbon, and be a net positive contributor to the goals of AB 32.
The climate solutions that California agriculture has to offer can be realized with investments that overcome barriers for innovative producers who achieve real GHG emission reductions and sequester significant volumes of carbon. The sooner this potential is recognized and unleashed, the greater the ability of the state’s agricultural sector to provide needed climate solutions.
Sonoma Biochar Initiative
The Sonoma Biochar Initiative (SBI), in collaboration with Dr. Cecile Girardin of the UK Big Biochar Experiment, the Sonoma Valley High School Earth Club, The Sonoma Ecology Center, and Sonoma Compost Company, is spearheading a Biochar Citizen Science Project to gather data on the use of biochar in local gardens. You can check out out our web page here: http://www.sonomabiocharinitiative.org/citizenscience.
Biochar is a solid, charcoal-like material obtained from the carbonization of biomass using a process called pyrolysis. Biochar has been shown to increase soil fertility, improve water retention, reduce soil emissions of greenhouse gases, reduce leaching of nutrients in the soil, and reduce soil acidity. Biochar also has appreciable carbon sequestration value and may one day be considered as a major mitigation strategy for climate change.
Conceived in England by Dr. Girardin as a way to generate data on how biochar affects plant growth in different soil types around the UK, The Big Biochar Experiment currently has over 300 participants. Comprised of regular citizens from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the study was started in the Fall of 2011 and is only now starting to gather results. SBI heard of the effort, contacted Dr. Girardin, and asked if we could collaborate with her, promising to add our results to her study. She is also working with groups in Asia and Australia, making this the largest international study of biochar yet undertaken, and the only study using a large number of “citizen scientists” to gather the data.
SBI and the Sonoma Valley High School Earth Club are looking for 50 gardeners in the Sonoma Valley willing to take part in the project. This could include individuals, school gardens, community gardens, or even nurseries. Participants will be supplied with free biochar and compost and given instructions on preparing 2 – 1 meter square plots, planting, and harvesting according to a set of guidelines. Participants must be willing to photograph the plots and record leaf, stem and root weights at harvest. All of the data will be gathered by SBI and sent to Dr. Giardin at the end of November.
Please contact Raymond Baltar at firstname.lastname@example.org by April 19th if you are interested in taking part in this pilot study. Distribution of the biochar/compost will be done on April 21st. We are hoping to secure a grant to ramp up the number of gardens to 300+ next year.
We just added three more members to our group: Matt Banchero, a local arborist and biochar enthusiast; Laurie Gallian, Sonoma City Councilwoman and former mayor; and Oren Wool, organizer of the Sustainable Enterprise Conference and the Conference Director for the USBI Biochar Conference at Sonoma State University from July 29 to Aug. 1.
Thank you all for supporting SBI!
11.5 tons of biochar was delivered to the Sonoma Biochar Initiative this cold, December morning. The char is being stored in Sonoma courtesy of Sonoma Materials, whose generosity in giving us the storage space we want to publicly thank, and whose talented forklift operators unloaded the truck in what must have been less than 15 minutes (great job, Tony and assistant!). This biochar, made from wood waste and walnut shells, was made available through Sonoma Compost Company and we also want to thank them for arranging this delivery. Destined for use in vineyard and farm field trials all of this char is spoken for but we are hoping this will just be the first of many such deliveries moving into the future. Here are a few photographs I took to record the event.