Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative Announces Seminar Series at UMass Amherst

Richard Stein

AMHERST, Mass. – The Pioneer Valley Biochar Initiative (PVBI) is presenting a 13-week seminar series, “Climate, Energy, Biochar and Agriculture,” beginning on Thursday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. in 113 Chenoweth Laboratory on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus, to consider the role of these environmental factors in agriculture.

The series of one-hour presentations may be elected as a for-credit college course but they are also open to the public free of charge. Continuing education credits are also available by contacting organizers.

The local (PVBI) group is made up offarmers, foresters, professors, students and concerned citizens working to promote awareness of biochar’s ability to increase soil productivity and enhance crop health while sequestering atmospheric carbon. PVBI is affiliated with the international and U.S. biochar initiatives and the New England Small Farm Institute.

Biochar is a type of charcoal created from biomass such as yard and farm waste by anaerobic pyrolysis, to form a soil amendment that increases fertility, crop health and agricultural productivity. It was used in antiquity by Aztec farmers whose practices did not deplete the soil. It can protect against certain soil-borne plant and crop diseases, and in recent years has been put forward as a method of sequestering carbon to offset greenhouse emissions into the atmosphere with the potential to mitigate climate change. Biochar is a stable solid, rich in carbon that can endure in soil for thousands of years.

The first of the Thursday afternoon seminars will feature an overview of the series by Stephen Herbert, professor of agronomy in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst. Others in the series include:

Jan. 30, Bethany Bradley, assistant professor of environmental conservation will discuss “Climate change and implications for agriculture,” plus the energy industry’s tactics to discredit climate science.

Feb. 6, Stephen Herbert will speak on “Climate and energy dependence and agriculture.

Feb. 13, Richard Stein, professor emeritus of chemistry, will talk about “Chemical properties of biochar.”

Feb. 20, Michael Garjian, CEO of Vertrolysis, Easthampton, will discuss “Pyrolysis, liquid fuels and biochar.”

Feb. 27, Baoshan Xing, professor of environmental and soil chemistry, Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass Amherst, will discuss “The science of the removal of endocrine disrupters and herbicide from wastewater with biochar.”

March 6, Stephen Joseph, University of New South Wales, Australia, and vice chairman of the International Biochar Initiative (IBI), with Wales, Mass., farmer, founder and past president of PVBI Ted Wysocki, will present “Biochar research and development in Asia and Australia.”

March 13, Thayer Tomlinson, communications director for the IBI, will introduce that organization.

March 27, Panel discussion on “Energy alternatives and constraints.”

April 3, Alexander DePillis, senior agricultural development coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Marketing, will discuss “Anaerobic digestion and designing stoves for heat and biochar.”

April 10, Stephen Herbert and Alan Page, president of Green Diamond Systems, Belchertown, will lead a field trip to a South Deerfield farm to explore “Integrating solar photovoltaic and biomass power generation on farms.”

April 17, Alan Page and forester Andy Stone of the Quabbin Reservoir State Park on “Forest management.”

April 23, Alan Page, TedWysocki, biochar engineer Frank Jeffers and Tom Goreau, president of Global Coral Reef Alliance and Biorock International Corp. of Cambridge, on “Forest management tour and biochar production.”