Biochar boosts tropical but not temperate crop yields

Simon Jeffery, Diego Abalos, Marija Prodana, Ana Catarina Bastos, Jan Willem Van Groenigen, Bruce A. Hungate, Frank Verheijen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

468 Scopus citations


Applying biochar to soil is thought to have multiple benefits, from helping mitigate climate change [1, 2], to managing waste [3] to conserving soil [4]. Biochar is also widely assumed to boost crop yield [5, 6], but there is controversy regarding the extent and cause of any yield benefit [7]. Here we use a global-scale meta-analysis to show that biochar has, on average, no effect on crop yield in temperate latitudes, yet elicits a 25% average increase in yield in the tropics. In the tropics, biochar increased yield through liming and fertilization, consistent with the low soil pH, low fertility, and low fertilizer inputs typical of arable tropical soils. We also found that, in tropical soils, high-nutrient biochar inputs stimulated yield substantially more than low-nutrient biochar, further supporting the role of nutrient fertilization in the observed yield stimulation. In contrast, arable soils in temperate regions are moderate in pH, higher in fertility, and generally receive higher fertilizer inputs, leaving little room for additional benefits from biochar. Our findings demonstrate that the yield-stimulating effects of biochar are not universal, but may especially benefit agriculture in low-nutrient, acidic soils in the tropics. Biochar management in temperate zones should focus on potential non-yield benefits such as lime and fertilizer cost savings, greenhouse gas emissions control, and other ecosystem services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number053001
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 25 2017


  • biochar
  • crop yield
  • meta-analysis
  • soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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