Evaluating the impacts of biochar on the fate and dynamics of dairy manure in agricultural soil
Biochar is a carbon sequestration technology that has shown potential to inhibit greenhouse gas (GHG) emission and nutrient leaching from soils, however the majority of biochar research thus far has focused on arable cropland rather than livestock systems or grasslands. Livestock production is an important agricultural system, and manure generated from livestock systems is a source of GHG emission as well as nutrient loading to surface- and groundwater. The high environmental impact of livestock production in the very areas that biochar has shown potential may suggest that this would be an ideal system for biochar incorporation. However, as grassland systems in the context of livestock production often receive high nutrient inputs in the form of manure which increases the potential for nutrient leaching or runoff, the high-nutrient ash content of biochar may potentially exacerbate this problem rather than suppress nutrient loss from soils. As private companies and government-funded programmes discuss the possibility of scaling the global manufacturing and soil-incorporation of biochar to a rate of gigatonnes per year, understanding the potential of biochar for use within a livestock system could be crucial in helping to develop an appropriate deployment plan for this material. This thesis is therefore focused on the use of biochar in grassland and livestock systems. It first examines the nutrient release from biochar in a sequential leaching experiment. Phosphorus (P) release indicated that provision of soil P (though quantitatively small) may be sustained over time whilst potassium (K+) release was quantitatively large but declined rapidly following the first extraction. An incubation study was then carried out using soil columns amended with farmyard manure, liquid manure (slurry) or fertiliser (plus an unamended control), each with and without biochar, which sought to determine the impact of biochar on N2O release and N and P leaching from soils with diverse nutrient sources. N2O emission from the columns was significantly suppressed by the presence of biochar, as was the leaching of mineral N. However, the amount of PO4 3--P in leachate was increased in biocharamended columns, relative to their unamended counter-parts. A slurry incubation study was then conducted, with a control slurry and four biochar-amended treatments, which explored whether biochar could suppress GHG and NH3 emission from manure prior to land application. The resulting data indicated that biochar demonstrates potential for GHG suppression but does not demonstrate potential for NH3 suppression from slurry in storage. Finally, a one-year field-based experiment was completed which analysed the impact of biochar on CH4, N2O, and NH3 emission as well as nutrient leaching from grassland soils that had been amended with a high rate of manure application (151.4 m3 ha-1 or 409 kg N ha-1). In this study, biochar demonstrated the potential to suppress each of the three types of gaseous emissions from manure-amended soil, though the differences between mean values were not statistically significant. Extracts from ion exchange resins indicated that annual cumulative K+ leached from biochar-amended plots was significantly higher than the control, and that P and NH4 + leached from biochar-amended plots was higher than the control at the time of the first rain event following biochar and manure application. Together, the results of these component studies indicate that biochar may indeed have potential to suppress GHG emissions from livestock systems, most likely through suppression of microbial activity by organic compounds that are sorbed to the char, though (as the mechanisms of GHG suppression by biochar are thus far not well understood) the capacity of biochar to do so may vary based on the type of biochar used, the soil characteristics, and other factors. Overall, the results of these studies suggest that some types of biochar should be used with caution in systems with high rates of nutrient application, unless the ash is removed prior to soil application.