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Friday, Feb 3, 2023
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A Berry New Way to Fight The Drought

It’s no easy task during a record-breaking drought for Ventura County farmers to produce the juicy strawberries stacked in little green cartons at the grocery store. “The farmers are always looking at ways to be more efficient,” said Nancy Broschart, water policy specialist for the Farm Bureau of Ventura County. One local company, Cool Planet, has developed a potential water-saving solution, and it’s won a prestigious Edison Award. The company claims its Cool Terra, a proprietary formula of a soil additive commonly known as biochar, has reduced water use by up to 50 percent in tests. “It’s wood, more or less. It has a very high water-holding capacity,” said Rick Wilson, vice president of strategic relationships for the Greenwood Village, Colo. company, which produces the biochar at its Camarillo plant. But for all its potential, the biochar industry is relatively new with no specific federal regulations, and if made incorrectly, the substance can carry toxins such as heavy metals. A non-profit advocacy group, the International Biochar Initiative, has created standards for producers and has a certification program, with Cool Terra the first to be approved. Oleg Daugovish, strawberry and vegetable crop advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension Ventura County, tested Cool Terra in his lab. “It definitely changed the dynamic of the soil,” said Daugovish, who nevertheless questions if it can be used at agricultural scale. “I don’t know if it’s going to be realistic.” The additive is currently sold for $320 for 1.3 cubic yards, enough to treat 3 to 7 cubic yards of ground. The company is working to improve the efficiency and cost of its production process. “It’s still a relatively new product and with all that, you’re going to go through some product development,” said Neil Wahlgren, commercial director for Cool Planet. –Mateo Melero

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