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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Effect of banded biochar on dryland wheat production and fertiliser use in south-western Australia: an agronomic and economic perspective

Paul Blackwell A E , Evelyn Krull B , Greg Butler C , Allan Herbert A and Zakaria Solaiman D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia, PO Box 110, Geraldton, WA 6530, Australia.

B CSIRO Land and Water, PMB 2, Glen Osmond, SA 5064, Australia.

C South Australian No-Till Farmers Association (SANTFA), PO Box 923, Clare, SA 5453, Australia.

D School of Earth and Environment, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: Paul.Blackwell@agric.wa.gov.au

Australian Journal of Soil Research 48(7) 531-545 https://doi.org/10.1071/SR10014
Submitted: 5 January 2010  Accepted: 17 June 2010   Published: 28 September 2010

Abstract

Effects of banded biochar application on dryland wheat production and fertiliser use in 4 experiments in Western Australia and South Australia suggest that biochar has the potential to reduce fertiliser requirement while crop productivity is maintained, and biochar additions can increase crop yields at lower rates of fertiliser use. Banding was used to minimise wind erosion risk and place biochar close to crop roots. The biochars/metallurgical chars used in this study were made at relatively high temperatures from woody materials, forming stable, low-nutrient chars. The results suggest that a low biochar application rate (~1 t/ha) by banding may provide significant positive effects on yield and fertiliser requirement. Benefits are likely to result from improved crop nutrient and water uptake and crop water supply from increased arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal colonisation during dry seasons and in low P soils, rather than through direct nutrient or water supply from biochars. Financial analysis using farm cash flow over 12 years suggests that a break-even total cost of initial biochar use can range from AU$40 to 190/ha if the benefits decline linearly to nil over 12 years, taking into account a P fertiliser saving of 50% or a yield increase of 10%, or both, assuming long-term soil fertility is not compromised. Accreditation of biochar for carbon trading may assist cost reduction.

Additional keywords: biochar, economics, fertilser, mycorrhiza, nutrition, water supply, wheat.


Acknowledgements

We thank Dale Park (WA Farmers Federation) and Prof. Lyn Abbott for encouragement, Bill Pearce for access to the Wundowie biochar, Simcoa Pty Ltd and Pacific Pyrolysis (formerly BEST Energies) for biochar supply, Mario d’Antuono and Michael Bennet for biometric advice and analysis, Bill Bowden for advice on plant nutrition research, Daniel Dempster (UWA) for characterisation measurements of Simcoa char, Stewart Edgecombe, Reg Lunt, Bill Bowden, Trevor Bell and Pat Redden for technical assistance, Western Minerals Fertilisers for fertiliser, plant tissue analysis and advice, and Nigel and Tanya Moffat, Paulownia Tree Farms, Darren Lowe and Phil Winchert for access to their properties and general assistance.


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