pH effects of the addition of three biochars to acidic Indonesian mineral soils
Soil acidity may severely reduce crop production. Biochar (BC) may increase soil pH and cation exchange capacity (CEC) but reported effects differ substantially. In a systematic approach, using a standardized protocol on a uniquely large number set of 31 acidic soils, we quantified the effect of increasing amounts (0–30%; weight:weight) of three types of field-produced BCs (from cacao (Theobroma cacao. L.) shell, oil palm (Elaeis guineensis. Jacq.) shell and rice (Oryza sativa. L.) husk) on soil pH and CEC. Soils were sampled from croplands at Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia. All BCs caused a significant increase in mean soil pH with a stronger response and a greater maximum increase for the cacao shell BC addition, due to a greater acid neutralizing capacity (ANC) and larger amounts of extractable base cations. At 1% BC addition, corresponding to about 30 tons ha−1, the estimated increase in soil pH from the initial mean pH of 4.7 was about 0.5 units for the cacao shell BC, whereas this was only 0.05 and 0.04 units for the oil palm shell and rice husk BC, respectively. Besides depending on BC type, the increase in soil pH upon the addition of each of the three BCs was mainly dependent on soil CEC (low CEC resulting in stronger pH increase), and to a lesser extent on initial soil pH (higher initial pH resulting in stronger pH increase). Addition of BC also increased the amount of exchangeable base cations (cacao shell ≫ oil palm and rice husk) and CEC. Through this systematic screening of the effect of BC on pH and CEC of acidic soils, we show that a small addition of BC, in particular if made of cacao shell, to acidic agricultural soils increases soil pH and CEC. However, the response is highly dependent on the type, quality and amount of the added BC as well as on intrinsic soil properties, mainly CEC.