Investigating the Ecological Impact of Pairing Agroforestry Establishment with Biochar Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2021: $7,609.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2023
Grant Recipient: Zumwalt Acres
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Gavrielle Welbel
Zumwalt Acres

Information Products


  • Fruits: apples, pears, persimmon
  • Nuts: chestnuts, hazelnuts


  • Crop Production: agroforestry, forest farming, forestry, water storage
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research, youth education
  • Energy: biofuel feedstocks, byproduct utilization
  • Natural Resources/Environment: afforestation, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, soil stabilization
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: organic matter
  • Sustainable Communities: sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    The existing Midwestern agricultural model of monoculture corn and soybean row crops is failing our environment: it degrades fertile soils, contaminates water, and emits greenhouse gases. Alternative, regenerative models of agriculture, such as agroforestry paired with biochar production, capture carbon while rebuilding soils, suppressing pests and diseases, increasing biodiversity, and creating wildlife habitats. These techniques have been modeled from techno-economic, ecological, and social perspectives, but we plan to corroborate these models through field-based studies. Funding is necessary to finance initial tree planting and continuous maintenance of the agroforest. A kiln with the capacity to regenerate the soil of our 12-acre agroforest is also necessary. Furthermore, using a new retort kiln as well as our current Open Flame Curtain kiln will allow us to expand the body of literature on biochar production. By combining biochar production with agroforestry, we can create a closed system in which waste products from the agroforest (i.e. tree prunings, nutshells) are used as feedstock to produce biochar, which is then reincorporated into the soil. Currently, knowledge of biochar production conditions and uses is limited, especially in conjunction with agroforestry.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    • For windbreak, we will plant 330 chestnut trees in two rows of a quarter mile and 264 elderberry shrubs in one row. In preparation for forest farming, we will plant 18 each of hazelnut, persimmon, cider apple, and Asian pear trees. Trees will be planted with and without biochar as a soil amendment
    • Quantitatively determine difference in survival rate and growth in trees planted with and without biochar
    • Compare quality of biochar produced from wood waste in a retort kiln and in a “Kon-tiki” open flame-curtain kiln
    • Share findings through media (website and social media), research presentations, and educational outreach
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.