Novel Biochar Injection Concept – Water Conservation and the Impacts on Soil Health and Crop Yield in a Western Colorado Hay Field

Michael Lobato1*, Holly Stanley1

1Matrix Resource Technologies, LLC, Fruita, Colorado,

The Colorado River Basin has been experiencing drought conditions for the last 20 years as climate change creates an increasingly warm, dry semi-arid west (Outcalt, 2022). Confronted with a changing climate, the task of addressing food security and remediating soil is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities of our time. Many consider agriculture as both the cause and solution of environmental problems. Previous research has shown that biochar amendments in agricultural fields may have many positive soil health benefits, such as significantly increasing soil organic mater and water holding capacity, especially when biochar is concentrated within the root zone (Schmidt et al., 2015). This novel soil and water conservation practice has the potential to immediately and significantly strengthen agricultural water resiliency in a drought-prone region. Yet, no practical agricultural application has been established to facilitate a viable method of biochar injection. To address this, our 9-month field trial examined the effectiveness of applying biochar using a novel method of vertical point injection in a grid-like pattern to reach the root zone of plants. We hypothesize that biochar injected in this method will 1) increase soil profile moisture and retention for longer durations 2) increase yield and quality of forage using up to 50% less irrigation water by frequency 3) promote beneficial soil microbiological community activity and 4) decrease needed rate and frequency of fertilizer applications. Soil test results of the field strip that was injected with biochar and watered using 50% less water by frequency showed a 23.4% increase of water in the soil profile with an average 3.31” of H2O/ft of soil. When compared to control strips, biomass results showed 13.3% more tons/acres, 73% less yield loss throughout the season, and an increase in hay protein resulting in a ‘premium’ designation. The total living microbial biomass was 16.4% higher when compared to the control strips. In addition, our hay analysis results showed that a field amended with biochar and with a regime of 50% less watering could result in a quality of forage that does not need any more fertilization unlike unamended fields. This study has highlighted the need for prolonged monitoring of the test site to assess retention time of the observed positive soil and water conservation results, as well as the continued development of the agricultural technology that will execute the studied novel biochar injection conservation practice.