The word biochar hints at something that involves life, with biology and charred wood, that is charcoal, wood that has burned without the presence of oxygen. And that sums up a black, crumbly, deep, water retaining, mineral rich soil that is host to many thousands of minute life forms.

It’s probably the most impressive, long lasting and fertile soil in the world, particularly as it traps and retains enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and so removes it from the atmosphere, while at the same time soaking up water like a sponge and accumulating a very wide range of minerals.

Unfortunately it’s rather rare because the conditions necessary for it to form involve the addition of charcoal through human intervention. It was first discovered in the Amazon basin where it’s development was likely supported by the pre-Columbus civilisations which benefited from the fertility and crop yield.

It’s unlikely that it could be developed on a much wider scale, though it does provide an excellent example of the benefits of a mature, rich, deep and highly organic soil that should influence farming practice world wide.

Left alone and given time most soils will develop a deep profile, with a rich mixture of dead organic matter that soaks up and holds water, as well as helping to provide a wide range of trace minerals that encourage strong plant growth.

It certainly shouldn’t be ploughed so that it dries out, loses fertility and can be blown away.

However modern, arable farming abuses soil with its short term concentration on one plant type at a time strongly supported by machinery, artificial fertilisers and weed killers. Their manufacture and use means that there is an excessive production of CO2, and they encourage water to drain far too readily and cause flooding.

We must change how we produce our food even if it reduces choice.