Effects of biochar on Arizona crop yield and water holding capacity

Arizona is extremely water limited with a variety of climates found throughout the state.  In the southern parts of the state, a $12.4 billion agriculture industry can be found, despite these water limitations.  Furthermore, Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in the state using 1.632 trillion gallons annually.  Current climate change models predict an increase in temperatures of ~2-6º Celsius (~5-10º Fahrenheit) by 2050, which will increase evaporation rates and the need for maximizing water use efficiency in these agricultural ecosystems. This research aims to increase water retention capacities of the sandy loam soil typically used in Arizona’s agricultural fields, by amending the soil with ponderosa pine biochar produced in the northern part of the state. By using biochar created from ponderosa pine this research simultaneously seeks new avenues for a more economic path towards thinning and restoring Arizona's forests.  Biochar has been found to have positive correlations with water retention, nutrient retention, and increased crop yields in many different types of soils across the globe. Very little research has been done on ponderosa pine biochar.  Through a greenhouse study, soil will be amended with four and eight percent ponderosa pine biochar and compared to a control soil group with no biochar amendment.  Data will be collected from each group in regards to moisture content levels present in soil, bioassay drought tolerance characteristics of two agricultural crops, and crop yields for statistical analysis. Lastly, biochar production is one possible use for the waste products from restoring northern Arizona’s forests to their natural fire regime and if soil water retention was raised just one percent in the agricultural lands of Arizona it could save 16 billion gallons of water annually.

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