Biochar application as a soil amendment [Italy]

Applicazione di biochar come ammendante organico

technologies_1279 - Italy

Completeness: 76%

1. General information

1.2 Contact details of resource persons and institutions involved in the assessment and documentation of the Technology

Key resource person(s)

SLM specialist:
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SLM specialist:

Morari Francesco

University of Padova


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1.3 Conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT

The compiler and key resource person(s) accept the conditions regarding the use of data documented through WOCAT:


1.5 Reference to Questionnaire(s) on SLM Approaches (documented using WOCAT)

Carbon farming

Carbon farming [Italy]

Managing land, water, plants and animals to meet the landscape restoration, climate change and food security.

  • Compiler: Nicola Dal Ferro

2. Description of the SLM Technology

2.1 Short description of the Technology

Definition of the Technology:

Application of fine-grained charcoal as an amendment to improve the soil quality and mitigate GHG emissions from croplands

2.2 Detailed description of the Technology


Biochar is a fine-grained charcoal, rich in refractory organic carbon compounds. Biochar is produced from pyrolysis of plant and waste feedstock, i.e. during thermal decomposition of biomass in partial or total absence of oxygen. As a soil amendment, biochar can favour a long-term stabilisation of carbon stocks, serving as a net withdrawal of atmospheric carbon dioxide. From an agronomic point of view, high organic carbon input from biochar can enhance the nutrient and water retention capacity of the amended soil, reducing the total fertilizer requirements.

Purpose of the Technology: Therefore, the application of biochar is proposed as a strategy to reduce the climate and environmental impact of cropland systems as well as improve the soil quality by enhancing its physical-chemical characteristics.

Establishment / maintenance activities and inputs: Due to high recalcitrance of its C compounds, fine-grained biochar can be applied occasionally in the field, although its long-term effect is still being studied. High doses of biochar can be distributed (e.g. > 10 t C ha-1) just before ploughing in order to favour its incorporation, mixing and interaction with soil particles.

Natural / human environment: Potentially, the high stability of biochar C-compounds favours a reduction of GHG emissions by increasing the soil carbon stocks. Potentially, the soil can benefit from biochar application by improving its structure, the water retention capacity and finally the nutrient cycling. Nevertheless, it must be underlined that such technique is still in its infancy and needs testing before it is widespread as an agricultural practice. Although the biochar costs of production are not available, it must be noted that, due to the occasional application, the management costs would be low.

2.3 Photos of the Technology

2.5 Country/ region/ locations where the Technology has been applied and which are covered by this assessment



Region/ State/ Province:


Further specification of location:

Veneto region

Specify the spread of the Technology:
  • evenly spread over an area
If precise area is not known, indicate approximate area covered:
  • < 0.1 km2 (10 ha)

This is only a research trial that is now performed at the experimental farm of the University of Padova.

2.7 Introduction of the Technology

Specify how the Technology was introduced:
  • during experiments/ research

3. Classification of the SLM Technology

3.2 Current land use type(s) where the Technology is applied



  • Annual cropping
Number of growing seasons per year:
  • 1

Longest growing period in days: 210Longest growing period from month to month: March to OctoberSecond longest growing period in days: 180


Major land use problems (compiler’s opinion): Soils in the low Venetian plain of the Veneto region generally suffer from a loss of soil organic matter (SOM) that is strongly affected by their natural texture and climatic conditions. Moreover, in the last 50 years intensive tillage practices contributed to a further SOM decrease estimated at 0.02-0.58 t/ha/y of carbon and high intensive monoculture practices implied oversimplification of agro-ecosystems and decline of soil biodiversity. Finally, in the last few years attention is given to excessive GHG emissions from croplands.

Major land use problems (land users’ perception): Decrease of productivity. However to date, few farmers have adopted conservation practices in order to reduce a decline of soil fertility and water quality, symptom of poor perception of the problem.

3.4 Water supply

Water supply for the land on which the Technology is applied:
  • mixed rainfed-irrigated

3.5 SLM group to which the Technology belongs

  • integrated soil fertility management

3.6 SLM measures comprising the Technology

agronomic measures

agronomic measures

  • A2: Organic matter/ soil fertility

Main measures: agronomic measures

Type of agronomic measures: manure / compost / residues

3.7 Main types of land degradation addressed by the Technology

chemical soil deterioration

chemical soil deterioration

  • Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content (not caused by erosion)

Main type of degradation addressed: Cn: fertility decline and reduced organic matter content

Main causes of degradation: soil management, crop management (annual, perennial, tree/shrub), population pressure

3.8 Prevention, reduction, or restoration of land degradation

Specify the goal of the Technology with regard to land degradation:
  • reduce land degradation
  • restore/ rehabilitate severely degraded land

Main goals: mitigation / reduction of land degradation, rehabilitation / reclamation of denuded land

Secondary goals: prevention of land degradation

4. Technical specifications, implementation activities, inputs, and costs

4.1 Technical drawing of the Technology

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Technical specifications (related to technical drawing):

Technical knowledge required for field staff / advisors: moderate

Technical knowledge required for land users: moderate

Main technical functions: increase in organic matter

Secondary technical functions: improvement of topsoil structure (compaction), increase in nutrient availability (supply, recycling,…), increase / maintain water stored in soil

Agronomic measure: Biochar
Material/ species: Plant feedstock
Remarks: 10-40 t C ha-1 still being studied

4.2 General information regarding the calculation of inputs and costs

other/ national currency (specify):

If relevant, indicate exchange rate from USD to local currency (e.g. 1 USD = 79.9 Brazilian Real): 1 USD =:


Indicate average wage cost of hired labour per day:


4.3 Establishment activities

Activity Timing (season)
1. Biochar input

4.4 Costs and inputs needed for establishment

Specify input Unit Quantity Costs per Unit Total costs per input % of costs borne by land users
Other Biochar 20t ha 1.0 6000.0 6000.0 100.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology 6000.0
Total costs for establishment of the Technology in USD 7500.0

Life span of biochar is several years but still under study.

4.6 Costs and inputs needed for maintenance/ recurrent activities (per year)


Costs are only indicative at the moment (2015 y) since a real market is not available.

4.7 Most important factors affecting the costs

Describe the most determinate factors affecting the costs:

Currently biochar is difficultly available in the market and some estimates report a high cost (300 US $/ t). However, the application of biochar can be done once every several years. As a result, costs are mainly as an initial investment.

5. Natural and human environment

5.1 Climate

Annual rainfall
  • < 250 mm
  • 251-500 mm
  • 501-750 mm
  • 751-1,000 mm
  • 1,001-1,500 mm
  • 1,501-2,000 mm
  • 2,001-3,000 mm
  • 3,001-4,000 mm
  • > 4,000 mm
Agro-climatic zone
  • sub-humid

Thermal climate class: temperate

5.2 Topography

Slopes on average:
  • flat (0-2%)
  • gentle (3-5%)
  • moderate (6-10%)
  • rolling (11-15%)
  • hilly (16-30%)
  • steep (31-60%)
  • very steep (>60%)
  • plateau/plains
  • ridges
  • mountain slopes
  • hill slopes
  • footslopes
  • valley floors
Altitudinal zone:
  • 0-100 m a.s.l.
  • 101-500 m a.s.l.
  • 501-1,000 m a.s.l.
  • 1,001-1,500 m a.s.l.
  • 1,501-2,000 m a.s.l.
  • 2,001-2,500 m a.s.l.
  • 2,501-3,000 m a.s.l.
  • 3,001-4,000 m a.s.l.
  • > 4,000 m a.s.l.

5.3 Soils

Soil depth on average:
  • very shallow (0-20 cm)
  • shallow (21-50 cm)
  • moderately deep (51-80 cm)
  • deep (81-120 cm)
  • very deep (> 120 cm)
Soil texture (topsoil):
  • medium (loamy, silty)
Topsoil organic matter:
  • medium (1-3%)
If available, attach full soil description or specify the available information, e.g. soil type, soil PH/ acidity, Cation Exchange Capacity, nitrogen, salinity etc.

Soil fertility is low
Soil drainage/infiltration level is medium
Soil water storage capacity is medium

5.4 Water availability and quality

Ground water table:

< 5 m

Availability of surface water:


Water quality (untreated):

good drinking water

5.5 Biodiversity

Species diversity:
  • medium

5.6 Characteristics of land users applying the Technology

Market orientation of production system:
  • commercial/ market
Level of mechanization:
  • mechanized/ motorized
Indicate other relevant characteristics of the land users:

Difference in the involvement of women and men: Farmers in the Veneto region are traditionally males due to historical and cultural reasons.

Population density: 200-500 persons/km2

Annual population growth: 0.5% - 1%

5.7 Average area of land used by land users applying the Technology

  • < 0.5 ha
  • 0.5-1 ha
  • 1-2 ha
  • 2-5 ha
  • 5-15 ha
  • 15-50 ha
  • 50-100 ha
  • 100-500 ha
  • 500-1,000 ha
  • 1,000-10,000 ha
  • > 10,000 ha

Average area of land owned or leased by land users applying the Technology: Also 15-50 ha

5.8 Land ownership, land use rights, and water use rights

Land ownership:
  • individual, not titled
  • individual, titled
Land use rights:
  • leased
  • individual
Water use rights:
  • communal (organized)
  • leased

5.9 Access to services and infrastructure

  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
technical assistance:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
employment (e.g. off-farm):
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
roads and transport:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
drinking water and sanitation:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good
financial services:
  • poor
  • moderate
  • good

6. Impacts and concluding statements

6.1 On-site impacts the Technology has shown

Socio-economic impacts


risk of production failure

Income and costs

expenses on agricultural inputs


Socio-cultural impacts

Improved livelihoods and human well-being

Comments/ specify:

So far the technology is in its infancy and improvements in livelihoods and human well-being are still not conceivable

Ecological impacts


soil moisture


nutrient cycling/ recharge


soil organic matter/ below ground C

Climate and disaster risk reduction

emission of carbon and greenhouse gases


6.2 Off-site impacts the Technology has shown

buffering/ filtering capacity


6.3 Exposure and sensitivity of the Technology to gradual climate change and climate-related extremes/ disasters (as perceived by land users)

Gradual climate change

Gradual climate change
Season increase or decrease How does the Technology cope with it?
annual temperature increase well

Climate-related extremes (disasters)

Meteorological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
local rainstorm well
local windstorm well
Climatological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
drought well
Hydrological disasters
How does the Technology cope with it?
general (river) flood well

Other climate-related consequences

Other climate-related consequences
How does the Technology cope with it?
reduced growing period well

6.4 Cost-benefit analysis


Short-term and long-term benefits are still being studied, therefore right now it is not possible to evaluate benefits

6.5 Adoption of the Technology


There is a little trend towards spontaneous adoption of the Technology

Comments on adoption trend: The technology is not yet applied in the field, although tested and proposed by research institutes in order to imporve soil fertility and soil organic matter content.

6.7 Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities of the Technology

Strengths/ advantages/ opportunities in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view
Enhances soil organic carbon content in the long-term
Improves soil water retention and nutrient cycling
Mitigates GHG emissions of cropland systems

6.8 Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks of the Technology and ways of overcoming them

Weaknesses/ disadvantages/ risks in the compiler’s or other key resource person’s view How can they be overcome?
Still not completely known the long-term effects on soil properties and biodiversity

7. References and links

7.1 Methods/ sources of information

7.2 References to available publications

Title, author, year, ISBN:

Physico-chemical properties and microbial responses in biochar-amended soils: Mechanisms and future directions, Gul et al., 2015. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment (206), 46-59.

Links and modules

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