Biochar Amendment to Enhance Tomato and Melon Productivity and Protect Against Phytophthora Root Rot Disease

Project Overview

Project Type: Professional + Producer
Funds awarded in 2014: $49,990.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: Utah State University
Region: Western
State: Utah
Principal Investigator:
Marion Murray
Utah State University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration
  • Pest Management: cultural control, prevention
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry


    When biomass such as wood, agricultural residue, manure, algae, etc., is super-heated in an enclosed system (called pyrolysis), three products may be created: bio-oil, synthetic gas, and biochar. The biochar product is a carbon-rich material that has been researched world-wide as a potential soil amendment. Vegetable producers in Utah expressed an interest in learning more about biochar to improve irrigation and nutrition management on crops grown in arid and alkaline soils, as well as preventing losses due to soil-borne pathogens such as Phytophthora sp. In biochar studies in other western U.S. locations, the effects on plant growth have varied among soil types, biochar production specifications, and application rates, making this project important to evaluating its value for agriculture in Utah. We worked with producers to collect fruit pruning wood to make biochar, and also used biochar as an amendment in on-farm trials to improve yield of tomato and melon. We also conducted greenhouse trials to determine biochar-grown tomato and melon susceptibility to Phytophthora root rot. In the field trials, soil pH and salinity remained largely unchanged after three years, while some nutrient increased and some decreased. In addition, there was no significant tomato or melon yield increase by the third season. In the greenhouse trial, we found no significant reduction in root rot symptoms from the application of biochar to the growth media. We conclude that although biochar has merits as a carbon sequestration tool, and for fresh tomato production, the yield increase will outweigh the cost of the biochar application in the first three years, there are still unknowns on the long-term effects of biochar for vegetable production.


    Project objectives:

    1) Evaluate soil application rates of fruit wood-prepared biochar for field-grown tomatoes and melons and establish parameters for subsequent trials.

    2) In collaboration with producers, evaluate how biochar amendment at the identified optimal rate influences crop yield of tomato and melon.

    3) Determine whether the same rate of biochar used in objective 2, when mixed in potting media, prevents or reduces susceptibility of pot-grown tomato and melon to Phytophthora root rot.

    4) Determine whether the use of soil-applied biochar could provide economic benefits to Utah’s vegetable growers.


    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.