CANYON, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Two professors at West Texas A&M University won a national grant to continue research into reducing the water needed for cotton farming.

Associate WT University Professor Craig Bednarz said they want to study how biochar changes soil’s physical and biological and chemical properties to see if those changes will be beneficial for crop production and how it benefits agronomics.

The US Department of Agriculture awarded WT’s Paul Engler College of Agriculture and Natural Sciences and the College of Engineering a $140,000 grant to investigate manufacturing and using biochar to improve soil health and reduce waste.

“We grow lots of cotton in this area, well over a million acres. We also irrigate all of that cotton from the Ogallala aquifer, which is you know, is a finite resource. It’s a limited resource. So we’re slowly transitioning back to rain-fed agriculture. So we feel like the biochar it will help our producers in the future to grow crops more sustainably, through the through the possible addition of soil amendments, like biochar.” said Bednarz

Researchers are trying to find meaningful ways to use waste and make dryland agriculture more viable.

“Biochar has properties that we feel like will be useful in crop production. Biochar is a porous compound, and it also has surface charges. So for those reasons, we feel like biochar will help us to improve the soil moisture holding the moisture holding capacity of our soils,” he said.

The grant will allow researchers to build a larger biochar crucible and hire graduate students to help with the study

“You can use it for a fuel a solid fuel if you want to, you can use it for air or water treatment, but we really want to use it to put it in soils, an agricultural soil for dryland applications. And the reason that it would potentially be helpful is it might help increase hold water holding capacity, and aid in soil health encouraging the growth and health of the microbial communities in the topsoil.” said Nathan Howell associate professor of environmental engineering and bell helicopter.

The study will take place over two years and biochar will be applied to the first one to two inches of topsoil with researchers taking samples throughout the two years.