Hoosier National Forest Contractor Tests Production Of Biochar For Use As Soil Amendment

(BEDFORD) – A contractor for the Hoosier National Forest recently started an experimental project to find out if woody debris leftover from timber harvest, known to foresters as slash, can be efficiently converted to biochar on site. 

This is a process that has never been done on Indiana’s only national forest or any in the USDA Forest Service’s eastern region. 

Robin Knepper, the owner of K&K Dirtworks, stokes the fire.

Biochar is charcoal produced from burned plant matter.  Biochar has many benefits that can help mitigate soil disturbances. Most importantly, it de-compacts soils, which improves infiltration and soil porosity, as well as increases its water holding capacity which mitigates surface water run-off and erosion. Biochar also holds water and nutrients to promote plant survival and growth. As a carbon-based product, biochar can also mitigate climate change by increasing the carbon pool within the soils. 

The finished product.

The first site to have this process tested is within the Uniontown North Restoration Project in Crawford County.  The site had undergone active forest management activities with the end goal of creating early successional habitat for wildlife. K&K Dirtworks was awarded the contract to produce biochar for the forest.  The Hoosier National Forest will ship samples of the biochar to the regional lab to assess how much carbon is in the finished product and the overall quality of char produced.

Matt Knepper, K&K employee, shows Chad Menke, Forest Hydrologist, the biochar product.

Soil and Water Specialist Chad Menke states, “This is an experimental project for the Hoosier and K&K Dirtworks to see where the production pitfalls are and the quality of the product that can be produced. We were fortunate to award this project to a knowledgeable contractor who specializes in producing soil amendment products such as compost, so it was a perfect fit to ensure this project was a success.”

Menke added, “While slash is an effective erosion control measure, it can sometimes hinder the rate of revegetation. If we can convert this excessive woody debris to biochar for soil application it will allow for impacted soils from forest management activities to be revitalized and regrow vegetation at a faster rate.” 

If this application can prove to be an economically viable process, the Hoosier will incorporate biochar treatments as a routine adaptive management option to be used when needed. Hoosier National Forest is always looking for new and improved soil and water conservation methods to be tried and implemented in future ecological harvests.