Evaluating the Performance of Biochar-amended Orchard Soils Under Projected Climate Change Scenarios

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2024: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2027
Grant Recipient: University of California, Merced
Region: Western
State: California
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Rebecca Ryals
University of California, Merced


  • Nuts: almonds


  • Crop Production: application rate management, cover crops, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers, water management
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, workshop
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, organic matter, soil analysis, soil quality/health, other

    Proposal abstract:

    Climate change has already made agriculture vulnerable to
    prolonged dry spells which have greatly affected agricultural
    yields and soil fertility. Nut trees, like almonds, are the most
    vulnerable to increased temperatures and water-induced stress. A
    projected increase of 1.5℃ by the mid-2030s would thus reduce
    rancher quality of life caused by shortened growing seasons and
    reduced harvests. Considering these risks, California has started
    a Healthy Soils to determine sustainable soil practices that
    farmers can adopt to mitigate risks from climate change. Among
    these practices is using biochar as a soil amendment; biochar has
    demonstrated the potential to improve soil health through
    increased water retention and carbon sequestration, among other
    benefits. Currently, our team is working on an on-farm
    demonstration site on a working almond orchard in Madera County,
    CA to explore the effects of two biochar types applied at two
    application rates on soil health and greenhouse gas dynamics. We
    propose to expand the scope of our field demonstration by adding
    research and educational activities that help inform best
    management practices for biochar use in orchard systems.
    Specifically, we propose a lab incubation study using growth
    chambers to measure the effects of biochar, separate and combined
    with cover crops, on soil properties and plant productivity under
    elevated temperatures and CO2 enrichment. We will also
    develop new educational resources, including an extension
    publication that will address gaps between public understanding
    and soil management practices, and multiple workshops, include a
    field-day, to demonstrate biochar application in almond orchards.
    Through these research and educational activities, we hope to
    demonstrate the role of biochar on orchard soil health and
    resilience to climate change and to generate new knowledge to
    inform safe and effective practices for biochar use in
    agricultural ecosystems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Research Objectives

    • Quantify the impact of the addition of two biochar types and
      two application rates to soil health, carbon dynamics, and
      greenhouse gas emissions in an almond orchard system
    • Determine the separate and combined effects of biochar and
      cover crops on soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil
      water retention under projected warming

    Educational Objectives

    • Develop an extension publication for American Farmland
      Trust’s (AFT) Farmland Information Center that will address gaps
      between farmer awareness and current available resources for
      recommendations on biochar application in orchard systems
    • Develop and disseminate best management practices for biochar
      application in almond orchards and share these practices to
      orchard growers through outreach events
    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.