As part of the global drive to fight climate change, many farmers are looking for practical methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and become carbon neutral. Dr. Carlos Romero has dedicated his research to discovering novel, practical solutions for agriculture that will not only benefit the environment, but also benefit farmers.
Romero’s research addresses two issues: greenhouse gas mitigation and manure nutrient recycling in densely populated livestock regions such as southern Alberta. According to the Government of Canada, 10% of Canada’s greenhouse gases come from crop and livestock production. For example, when cattle process food in their gut, much of the carbon and nitrogen in the feed is released as methane and nitrous oxide gases, either directly by the animal or as a by-product of manure and urine production. This is also a loss of value for farmers, as carbon and nitrogen in manure are important nutrients to keep soils healthy and productive. When managed properly, manure applications can improve on-farm sustainability. Romero is part of a research team that explored a solution that not only can reduce the methane emissions coming from cattle, but also increase the nutrient-richness of manure: biochar.
What is biochar? It is a charcoal-like substance, made by burning organic waste material (wood chips, leaf litter, dead grass, etc.) in the absence of oxygen. Though it looks like charcoal, it’s produced in such a way as to eliminate any contaminates and safely store slowly decomposable carbon.
I believe that managing agroecosystems for people’s betterment can be achieved by strategically bridging the gap between science and application through well-planned, thoughtful research programs
What does biochar have to do with cattle and manure? Recent research, such as Romero’s, proposes that adding biochar to animal feed can simultaneously reduce methane emissions and benefit growth performance. As an added benefit, biochar additives may also transform manure into a more stable product. Romero’s research is evaluating these aspects to determine if the use of biochar in animal farming will benefit farmers. His laboratory and field trials have shown that biochar adsorbs some nutrients during its time in the cattle’s gut. When excreted, biochar increases both the nutrient density and carbon concentration of manure. This has implications not only from an agronomic perspective, but also from a carbon reduction one. Romero has more testing to do, but it seems as though biochar is a promising “natural tool” to improve feedlot waste management in Canada.
Romero firmly believes that his research can provide farmers with a practical method to produce manage their manure in a healthier, more sustainable way. “I believe that managing agroecosystems for people’s betterment can be achieved by strategically bridging the gap between science and application through well-planned, thoughtful research programs.”
Dr. Carlos Romero is a postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Arts and Science, working under supervision of Dr. Erasmus Okine at the University of Lethbridge. He has presented his research to farmers, county agents, college students, and fertilizer industry representatives in meetings organized by the counties of Lethbridge and Vulcan and the city of Calgary.