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Michael R. Evans, Brian E. Jackson, Michael Popp, and Sammy Sadaka

The use of biochar as a soil amendment has fostered much attention in recent years due to its potential of improving the chemical, physical, and biological properties of agricultural soils and/or soilless substrates. The objective of this study was to evaluate the chemical properties of feedstocks, common in the southeast United States, and their resulting biochar products (after being torrefied) and determine if the chemical properties were within suitable ranges for growers to use the biochar products as root substrate components. Poultry litter biochar produced at 400 °C for 2 hours had a higher total phosphorus (P), potassium (K), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S), chloride (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), sodium (Na), and zinc (Zn) concentration than biochar made using the same process with mixed hard wood species, miscanthus (Miscanthus capensis), cotton (Gossypium hirsutum) gin trash, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), rice (Oryza sativa) hull, and pine (Pinus sp.) shavings feedstocks. The pH of the biochar products ranged from 4.6 for pine shaving biochar to 9.3 for miscanthus biochar. The electrical conductivity (EC) ranged from 0.1 dS·m−1 for mixed hardwood biochar to 30.3 dS·m−1 for poultry litter biochar. The cation exchange capacity (CEC) of the biochar products ranged from a low of 0.09 meq/g for mixed hardwood biochar to a high of 19.0 meq/g for poultry litter biochar. The water-extractable nitrate, P, K, Ca, Mg, sulfate, boron, Cl, Cu, Fe, Mo, Na, and Zn were higher in poultry litter biochar than in all of the other types of biochar. The high EC and mineral element concentration of the poultry litter biochar would prevent its use in root substrates except in very small amounts. In addition, the high degree of variability in chemical properties among all of the biochar products would require users to know the specific properties of any biochar product they used in a soil or soilless substrate. Modifications to traditional limestone additions and fertility programs may also need to be tested and monitored to compensate for the biochar pH and mineral nutrient availability. Users should be aware that biochar products made from different feedstocks can have very different chemical properties even if the same process was used to manufacture them.

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Héctor Germán Rodríguez, Jennie Popp, Michael Thomsen, Heather Friedrich, and Curt R. Rom

Extending the production season of blackberry (Rubus subgenus Rubus) cultivars allows producers the opportunity to potentially receive better prices. Producers could benefit from out-of-season production by sustaining cash flow during more of the year and thereby expanding their market. The objective of this study was to compare the present value (PV) probabilities of being able to cover the total cost (TC) of production (break-even) for open-field and high tunnel production systems for the primocane-fruiting blackberry cultivar Prime-Jan® in northwestern Arkansas. (PVs) of gross revenues (GRs) of each production system were simulated 500 times. Total yields were higher in the open-field system in the first 2 years of production and consistently higher in weeks 33 to 34 and 36 to 37 than high tunnel production. It seems that there are no yield benefits from the high tunnel system early in the harvest season, except in the first year of primocane-fruiting production. The break-even probability was sensitive to the different percentage of yield sold, the percentage of the retail price received by the producer, and the production system analyzed. Even though the potential gross returns obtained with the high tunnel system are high (when compared with open-field production), the PV distributions of the gross returns do not offset the high tunnel TC in half of the simulations. Conversely, open-field production proves to be more profitable both in magnitude and in terms of the likelihood of exceeding the break-even threshold over the productive life of the enterprise.