Feeding a charcoal supplement to cattle may help their digestive systems 'lock up' more dietary nitrogen in proteins, and prevent it escaping into the environment as nitrates.

Initial results from manure testing on a farm in Lincolnshire taking part in a field lab suggested that feeding cattle biochar – a type of charcoal – decreased the nitrate levels in their manure.

But more trials are needed to build on these findings so Innovative Farmers, the not-for-profit network that enables farmer-led research, has a shared the results with farmers in Wales and asked for more to come forward to trial the idea.

Farmer Richard Copley, who led on the research, said: “I’m really looking forward to seeing whether other farmers have the same experiences that I have – the benefit of farmer-led research is that it unites farmers and scientists, allowing us to look at farming from a scientific point of view. Results from my farm have been encouraging, but we need more farm-based research into the impact of biochar feed on ammonia emissions, carbon sequestration and animal health.”

The farmer-led trial is in partnership with researchers from the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience (CAWR) at Coventry University, who are also carrying out pot trials to see whether biochar-feed manure has any impact on grass growth and soil health. It is also thought biochar could benefit cattle by absorbing toxins and reducing parasitic worms.

CAWR researcher Donna Udall, who worked with Mr Copley on the trial, said: “As a scientist from a farming family I know that when you’re in the lab it’s easy to get so lost in detail that you forget the bigger picture. Working with farmers means I am constantly aware of all the pressures farmers are under and the variations that can happen on different farms, so I’m keen to look at the results from other farmers to see how they compare to the initial findings.”

Innovative Farmers development manager Helen Aldis said: “This interesting farmer-led research suggests biochar could have an important role to play in reducing environmental impacts of food and farming. Sharing findings through networks like Innovative Farmers allows farmers to find sustainable and practical solutions to farming and food production challenges.”

To find out more about the field lab, visit www.innovativefarmers.org