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Nuffield Farming Scholar Visiting New Zealand

As part of an international study tour, Nuffield Farming Scholar, Luke Breedon, is visiting biochar producers in the North Island this week. Breedon is researching the production and application of biochar in horticulture and agriculture production, particularly as a sustainable replacement for fossil-fuel based fertilisers and method of reducing emissions. Members of the Biochar Network New Zealand including The Good Carbon Farm, Slow Farm, Trevelyan's Pack & Cool Ltd, and Soilpro, are hosting Breedon as he travels between Auckland and Wellington over the coming days.

Motivated by a desire to offer alternatives and solutions to the imported and sometimes environmentally detrimental products used in farming in the United Kingdom, Breedon is exploring how the experiences and benefits of using biochar on farms in New Zealand can benefit British farmers.

“Although biochar has been around for some time, many farmers are unaware of its existence. I will explore how biochar is being used around the world, how it is produced, and from what”, says Breedon.

Made by pyrolysis of tree or plant waste, biochar is one of few negative emissions technologies (NETs) recognised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Biochar safely stores up to half the carbon in its source material for hundreds - and even thousands - of years.

Breedon is one of 19 Nuffield Scholars from the UK awarded a farming scholarship in 2023. Scholars travel around the world to learn from leading experts and farmers, then share their knowledge back in the UK. Established in 1947, over 1,000 farming scholarships have been granted to practitioners in the food, farming, horticulture and rural industries. Prior to arriving in New Zealand, Breedon visited biochar producers in the United States, and will next travel to Australia before returning home.

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In New Zealand, biochar made from forestry residues is used for a variety of regenerative agriculture applications, saving farmers’ money, improving soil and water quality, increasing productivity, and reducing fertiliser and irrigation dependency.

At Trevelyan's Pack & Cool Ltd, one of New Zealand’s largest single-site kiwifruit and avocado packhouse based in Te Puke, research is ongoing on the implications of the synergistic effects of biochar and regenerative practices (such as cover cropping) on soil biological and chemical parameters. Slow Farm is producing biochar from arborist offcuts and selling regionally in the Manawatū, as well as offering advice to farmers and growers on the ways increased soil carbon can improve the regenerative aspects of their operations. Hutt Valley based not-for-profit organisation The Good Carbon Farm is providing free biochar to school and community gardens to incorporate into their soils and compost, collaborating with Pukekohe based soil specialists, Soilpro.

“Are there ways of producing biochar economically for agriculture and does the carbon market have a part to play in this? What methods of knowledge transfer are employed in other countries and would they be suitable for the UK? Biochar could have a huge part to play in net zero farming whilst also providing benefits to animals, soil and efficiency. Now is the time for innovation and communication to lead the way in its development,” says Breedon.

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