THE BACKSTORY: Ranch Foods Direct owner Mike Callicrate first got the idea of turning bones into biochar while learning about regenerative agricultural practices from Australian consultant Darren Doherty. He then tracked down Scott Bagley, of Athens, Ohio, who has an exclusive license to sell the Exeter Biochar Retort, the most state-of-the-art technology available for turning wood into biochar. Would the same method work on bones? They tried it and liked the results.
WHY BONE-CHAR? The Exeter Biochar Retort is a large round oven that uses a high-heat process called pyrolysis to charcoal materials in an energy efficient, clean-burning way. As the wood or bone is charred, instead of the carbon burning off and releasing into the atmosphere, it becomes “fixed” in the charred material, which can then be finely ground and added to compost. Bone-char enhances soil by creating a more porous structure that helps retain water, improve soil aeration and encourage healthy micro-organisms. But bone-char is also a natural fertilizer, rich in calcium and phosphorous. “There’s only a limited amount of phosphorous left in the world and it is all under the control of four big mining companies,” Mike says. With reserves dwindling, demand is expected to outstrip supply as early as 2030. “Charcoal is a valuable ingredient in rebuilding healthy soils,” Mike concludes. “Blended with composted manure and other nutrient-rich organic materials from our meat processing operation, it will make a great natural fertilizer.”