Updated: May 13, 2021
Australian farmer Doug Pow has had some amazing results from feeding his cattle biochar mixed with molasses. His whole-farm biochar system boosted his farms productivity, cutting input costs and reducing cattle emissions while storing carbon in the ground.
Over the past few years, Doug worked out where all his money was being spent, and bravely decided to see what would happen if he cut out many practices including fertilising pastures, drenching cattle and feeding hay.
He said many practices farmers did each year were climate driven, and while the climate had changed markedly in the past two decades in the south-west, those practices remained.
‘I didn’t realise how much I was wasting on inputs like hay, fertiliser and drenches until I stopped using them - and nothing happened,’ Doug said.
Doug said most cattle producers in the area would feed 3.5 roles of hay per cow/calf per year, at a cost of about $75 per bail.
‘We feed the cattle biochar which, for a herd of 60 cows, costs $1000 a year, so other than our NLIS tags, that’s basically our cost of producing cattle. If you don’t feed hay, you don’t need the tractor, mower, bailer, rake, time, labour—and when you start adding all that up, it’s a lot,’ he said.
Not long after starting the biochar experiment, Doug also stopped drenching cattle and fertilising his pastures; the cattle didn’t get sick and it improved the soil’s ecology even further.
Carbon sequestration a profitable system:
The original thing Doug was trying to test was if he could biologically reposition biochar in the ground as a way of sequestering carbon in an inexpensive and easy way and he succeeded in doing that quickly.
Biochar is a stable, carbon-rich form of charcoal that can be applied to increase soil organic carbon. It is produced by pyrolysis, a process where plant or animal waste is heated at 250°C or more with minimal oxygen. Biochar can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere as pyrolysis traps the carbon in the biochar, which otherwise would have been released through decomposition or burning of plant material. Biochar is stable in soils and, depending on the type of source material, can remain in soils for hundreds to thousands of years (Brockman 2015).
While the cascading series of side effects have become far more important to him, Doug said sequestering carbon was something all farmers should consider, to not only improve farm health, but to potentially make money on carbon credits in the future.
Also, as biochar is a by-product from agricultural industries, Doug said it can be made at a profit because its production creates power from heat and it can be sold to others.
‘Every stage of the process is profitable, and then there is scope for making money from carbon credits,’ Doug said. ‘We will be able to actively take CO2 out of the atmosphere. It’s cheaper to reduce other people’s CO2 than try and get them to do it, and if we can do it profitably at every stage from making the biochar, making the animals grow faster and healthier, and making the ground more fertile, we would be mugs not to do that.’
Download Short PDF Document here: Doug Pow's Biochar Cattle Farming System.
Read the full research details here:
In addition to this article, you might like to read this from the BBC which mentions Doug Pow's work - Can charcoal make beef better for the environment?
By Mikki Cusack - 7th February 2020