Biochar—A Panacea for Agriculture or Just Carbon?

Abstract: The sustainable production of food faces formidable challenges. Foremost is the availability of arable soils, which have been ravaged by the overuse of fertilizers and detrimental soil management techniques. The maintenance of soil quality and reclamation of marginal soils are urgent priorities. The use of biochar, a carbon-rich, porous material thought to improve various soil properties, is gaining interest. Biochar (BC) is produced through the thermochemical decomposition of organic matter in a process known as pyrolysis. Importantly, the source of organic material, or ‘feedstock’, used in this process and different parameters of pyrolysis determine the chemical and physical properties of biochar. The incorporation of BC impacts soil–water relations and soil health, and it has been shown to have an overall positive impact on crop yield; however, pre-existing physical, chemical, and biological soil properties influence the outcome. The effects of long-term field application of BC and how it influences the soil microcosm also need to be understood. This literature review, including a focused meta-analysis, summarizes the key outcomes of BC studies and identifies critical research areas for future investigations. This knowledge will facilitate the predictable enhancement of crop productivity and meaningful carbon sequestration.