Combined biochar and organic waste have little effect on chemical soil properties and plant growth


Biochar has received great attention as a soil conditioner since it can potentially sequester carbon (C) in soil, enhance soil physical, chemical and biological properties and improve crop productivity. This study reports the results of a pot experiment with olive (Olea europaea L.), carried out in an acidic and clay loam textured soil, and cultivated during two growing seasons under eight fertilization treatments. They included mineral fertilization equivalent to a rate of 100 kg ha-1 of N, P2O5 and K2O (NPK), biochar applied at a rate of 10 (B10), and at 20 (B20) t biochar ha-1, biochar-NPK mixture (B10+NPK), biochar-waste mixtures with mushroom waste compost (B10+MWC), olive mill waste (B10 + OMW), and municipal solid waste (B10+MSW), the organic materials applied at a rate of 20 t ha-1, together with a treatment without fertilization (control). Biochar in the B20 treatment increased the soil C content in comparison to the control. Biochar in the B10+NPK treatment reduced soil nitrate levels compared to NPK treatment. No other benefits to soil properties, nutrient uptake or plant growth were observed with the use of biochar or any positive synergistic effect with the mixture of biochar with the other organic amendments. MSW, OMW and MWC tended to increase soil pH in comparison to the control. Most of the studies with biochar were carried out in soils with edaphic limitations or harsh environmental conditions limiting plant growth, which may have facilitated the detection of favorable effects. Under less limited soils or stressful conditions for plants, such as the ones established in this experiment, the benefits of using biochar were poor.


Arif M, Ilyas M, Riaz M, Ali K, Shah K, Haq IU, Fahad S. 2017. Biochar improves phosphorus use efficiency of organic-inorganic fertilizers, maize-wheat productivity and soil quality in a low fertility alkaline soil. Field Crop Res. 214:25-37.

Arrobas M, Ferreira IQ, Afonso S, Rodrigues MA. 2018. Sufficiency ranges and crop nutrient removals for peppermint (Mentha 1 x piperita L.) established from field and pot fertilizer experiments. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 49 (14):1719-1730.

Bastida F, Torres IF, Hernández T, García C. 2017. The impacts of organic amendments: Do they confer stability against drought on the soil microbial community? Soil Biol Biochem. 113:173-183.

Bian R, Joseph S, Shi W, Li L, Taherymoosavi S, Pan G. 2019. Biochar DOM for plant promotion but not residual biochar for metal immobilization depended on pyrolysis temperature. Sci Total Environ. 662:571-580.

Broadley M, Brown P, Cakmak I, Rengel Z, Zhao F. 2012. Function of nutrients, micronutrients. In: Marschner P, editor. Marschner’s mineral nutrition of higher plants. London, UK: Elsevier. p. 191-248.

Calleja-Cervantes ME, Fernández-González AJ, Irigoyen I, Fernández-López M, Aparicio-Tejo PM, Menéndez S. 2015. Thirteen years of continued application of composted organic wastes in a vineyard modify soil quality characteristics. Soil Biol Biochem. 90:241-254.

Chan KY, Van Zwieten L, Meszaros I, Downie A, Joseph S. 2007. Agronomic values of greenwaste biochar as a soil amendment. Aust J Soil Res. 45:629-634.

Dispenza V, De Pasquale D, Fascella G, Mammano MM, Alonzo G. 2016. Use of biochar as peat substitute for growing substrates of Euphorbia × lomi potted plants. Span J Agric Res. 14(4):e0908, 11 pages.

Esfandbod M, Phillips IR, Miller B, Rezaei Rashti M, Lan ZM, Srivastava P, Sing B, Chen CR. 2017. Aged acidic biochar increases nitrogen retention and decreases ammonia volatilization in alkaline bauxite residue sand. Ecol Eng. 98:157-165.

Farrell M, Macdonald LM, Butler G, Chirino-Valle I, Condron LM. 2014. Biochar and fertiliser applications influence phosphorus fractionation and wheat yield. Biol Fert Soils 50:169-178.

Fernández-Escobar R, Marín L, Sánchez-Zamora MA, García-Novelo JM, Molina-Soria C, Parra MA. 2009. Long-term effects of N fertilization on cropping and growth of olive trees and on N accumulation in soil profile. Eur J Agron. 31:223-232.

Ferreira IQ. 2018. Estudos de fertilização de azoto, fósforo, potássio e boro em oliveira. PhD thesis, Universidad de León, Spain (in Portuguese).

Ferreira IQ, Arrobas M, Moutinho-Pereira JM, Correia C, Rodrigues MA. 2018b. Olive response to potassium applications under different water regimes and cultivars. Nutr Cycl Agroecosys. 112:387-401.

Ferreira IQ, Rodrigues MA, Moutinho-Pereira JM, Correia C, Arrobas M. 2018a. Olive tree response to applied phosphorus in field and pot experiments. Sci Hort. 234:236-244.

Gao S, DeLuca TH, Cleveland CC. 2019. Biochar additions alter phosphorus and nitrogen availability in agricultural ecosystems: A meta-analysis. Sci Total Environ. 654:463-472.

Gul S, Whalen JK, Thomas BW, Sachdeva V, Deng H. 2015. Physico-chemical properties and microbial responses in biochar-amended soils: mechanisms and future directions. Agric Ecosyst Environ. 206:46-59.

Havlin JL, Tisdale SL, Nelson WL, Beaton JD. 2014. Soil fertility and fertilizers, an introduction to nutrient management, 8th edition. New Jersey, USA: Pearson, Inc.

Hawkesford M, Horst W, Kichey T, Lambers H, Schjoerring J, Moller IS, White P. 2012. Function of macronutrients. In: Marschner P, editor. Marschner’s mineral nutrition of higher plants. London, UK: Elsevier. p. 135-189.

Hawthorne I, Johnson MS, Jassal RS, Black TA, Grant NJ, Smukler SM. 2017. Application of biochar and nitrogen influences fluxes of CO2, CH4 and N2O in a forest soil. J Environ Manage. 192: 203–214.

Houba VJ, van der Lee JJ, Novozamsky I. 1997. Soil analysis procedures. Other procedures. Wageningen, The Netherlands: Landbouwuniversiteit Wageningen.

Jin Z, Chen C, Chen X, Jiang F, Hopkins I, Zhang X, Han X, Billy G, Benavides J. 2019. Soil acidity, available phosphorus content, and optimal biochar and nitrogen fertilizer application rates: A five-year field trial in upland red soil, China. Field Crop Res. 232:77-87.

Kavitha B, Reddy PVL, Kim B, Lee SS, Pandey SK, Kim K-H. 2018. Benefits and limitations of biochar amendment in agricultural soils: A review. J Environ Manage. 227:146-154.

Langeroodi ARS, Campiglia E, Mancinelli R, Radicetti E. 2019. Can biochar improve pumpkin productivity and its physiological characteristics under reduced irrigation regimes? Sci Hort. 247:195-204.

Li S, Wang S, Shangguan Z. 2019. Combined biochar and nitrogen fertilization at appropriate rates could balance the leaching and availability of soil inorganic nitrogen. Agric Ecosyst Environ. 276:21-30.

Liu S, Meng J, Jiang L, Yang X, Lan Y, Cheng X, Chen W. 2017. Rice husk biochar impacts soil phosphorous availability, phosphatase activities and bacterial community characteristics in three different soil types. Appl Soil Ecol. 116:12-22.

Masto RE, Kumar S, Rout TK, Sarkar P, George J, Ram LC. 2013. Biochar from water hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes) and its impact on soil biological activity. Catena 111:64-71.

Meng L, Sun T, Li M, Saleem M, Zhang Q, Wang C. 2019. Soil-applied biochar increases microbial and wheat plant performance under herbicide fomesafen stress. Ecotox Environ Safe. 171:75-83.

Obriot F, Stauffer M, Goubard Y, Cheviron N, Peres G, Eden M, Revallier A, Vieublé-Gonod L, Houot S. 2016. Multi-criteria indices to evaluate the effects of repeated organic amendment applications on soil and crop quality. Agric Ecosyst Environ. 232:165-178.

Palansooriya KN, Ok YS, Awad YM, Lee SS, Sung J-K, Koutsospyros A, Moon DH. 2019. Impacts of biochar application on upland agriculture: a Review. J Environ Manage. 234:52-56.

Pardo R, Schweitzer JP. 2018. A long-term strategy for a European Circular Economy - Setting the course for success. Policy paper produced for the Think2030 Project. Brussels, Belgium.

Rashti MR, Esfandbod M, Phillips IR, Chen CR. 2019. Aged biochar alters nitrogen pathways in bauxite-processing residue sand: Environmental impact and biogeochemical mechanisms. Environ Pollut. 247:438-446.

Rodrigues MA, Arrobas M. 2017. Manutenção do Solo. In: Rodrigues MA, editor. Amendoeira: Estado da Produção. Bragança, Portugal: CNCFS. p. 185-231 (in Portuguese).

Rodrigues MA, Ferreira IQ, Afonso S, Arrobas M. 2018a. Sufficiency ranges and nutrient removals in lemon balm based on crop response to applied nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and boron. J Plant Nutr. 41(8):996-1008.

Rodrigues MA, Ferreira IQ, Claro AM, Arrobas M. 2012. Fertiliser recommendations for olive based upon nutrients removed in crop and pruning. Sci Hort. 142:205-211.

Rodrigues MA, Ladeira LC, Arrobas M. 2018b. Azotobacter-enriched organic manures to increase nitrogen fixation and crop productivity. Eur J Agron. 93:88-94.

Rodrigues MA, Pereira A, Cabanas JE, Dias L, Pires J, Arrobas M. 2006. Crops use-efficiency of nitrogen from manures permitted in organic farming. Eur J Agron. 25:328-335.

Santos JQ. 2015. Fertilização: fundamentos agroambientais da utilização dos adubos e corretivos. Porto, Portugal: Publindústria (in Portuguese).

Shaaban M, Zwieten LV, Bashir S, Younas A, Núñez-Delgado A, Chhajro MA, Kubar KA, Ali U, Rana MS, Mehmood MA, Hu R. 2018. A concise review of biochar application to agricultural soils to improve soil conditions and fight pollution. J Environ Manage. 228:429-440.

Sohi SP, Krull E, Lopez-Capel E, Bol R. 2010. A review of biochar and its use and function in soil. Adv Agron. 105:47-82.

Tian Y, Sun X, Li S, Wang H, Wang L, Cao J, Zhang L. 2012. Biochar made from green waste as peat substitute in growth media for Calathea rotundifola cv. Fasciata. Sci Hort. 143:15-18.

Walinga I, van Vark W, Houba V, van der Lee J. 1989. Soil and Plant Analysis: Part 7 – Plant Analysis Procedures. The Netherlands: Wageningen Agricultural University.

Wong JTF, Chen X, Deng W, Chai Y, Ng CWW, Wong MH. 2019. Effects of biochar on bacterial communities in a newly established landfill cover topsoil. J Environ Qual. 236:667-673.

Yazdanpanah N, Mahmoodabadi M, Cerdà A. 2016. The impact of organic amendments on soil hydrology, structure and microbial respiration in semiarid lands. Geoderma 266:58-65.

Yu H, Zou W, Chen J, Chen H, Yu Z, Huang J, Tang H, Wei X, Gao B. 2019. Biochar amendment improves crop production in problem soils: A review. J Environ Manage. 232:8-21.

Zhang L, Sun X, Tian Y, Gong X. 2014. Biochar and humic acid amendments improve the quality of composted green waste as a growth medium for the ornamental plant Calathea insignis. Sci Hort. 176:70-78.