Biodegradable mulch films on the horizon

February 26, 2009
Biodegradeable mulch films studies by researchers for tomato production. Photo by Mathieu Ngouajio

In 1999, more than 30 million acres of agricultural land worldwide were covered with plastic mulch, and those numbers have been increasing significantly since then. With the recent trend toward "going green", researchers are seeking environmentally friendlier alternatives to conventional plastic mulch.

Plastic mulch can provide earlier crop maturity, higher yields, increased quality, improved disease and insect resistance, and more efficient water and fertilizer use, but carries a high cost financially and environmentally when it comes to removing the estimated one million tons of mulch film used internationally each year.

Mathieu Ngouajio, of the Department of Horticulture at Michigan State University, led a study comparing black and white biodegradable mulch films in two thicknesses to traditional plastic mulch in the production of tomato. The results of the study were published in the American Society for Horticultural Science journal HortTechnology.

The lowest soil temperatures were identified with the white films, which is also associated with the white film's higher rate of degradation. Breakdown of white mulch occurred early and exposed the bed for weed growth, creating competition for nutrients between weeds and tomato. As the weeds grew, they tore the mulch, leading to further degradation. Furthermore, the weeds hosted a large insect population that reduced the quality of the tomato.

"The [conventional] LDPE mulch provided 100% weed control in both years, which confirms why this is the preferred mulch used by most vegetable growers," Ngouajio remarked. Weed control levels for both thicknesses of the black biodegradable mulch were more than 90%. Black biodegradable mulch performed well in the field, producing tomato crops similar to conventional mulch during both years of the study.

The study authors explain that there are three factors to be resolved before black biodegradable mulch can be seen as a viable replacement for conventional methods. First, more research is needed to produce mulch that can fully break down in the field. Second, biodegradable mulch must be able to withstand the stresses of being applied to fields by machine. Last, the price of biodegradable mulch needs to be economically acceptable compared to conventional mulch after factoring in the savings for removal and disposal.

More information: The complete study and abstract are available on the ASHS HortTechnology electronic journal web site: horttech.ashspublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/18/4/605

Source: American Society for Horticultural Science

Explore further: Study finds 2 biodegradable mulches to be suitable polyethylene alternatives

Related Stories

Can fungi replace plastics?

March 12, 2013

Fungi, with the exception of shitake and certain other mushrooms, tend to be something we associate with moldy bread or dank-smelling mildew. But they really deserve more respect. Fungi have fantastic capabilities and can ...

Paper mulches evaluated for commercial vegetable production

December 29, 2010

Polyethylene mulches, used widely in commercial vegetable production to improve crop yields and produce quality, have distinct disadvantages. Disposal options are limited, and plastic mulches often end up in landfills, being ...

Weed blasting offers new control method for organic farmers

January 21, 2016

Weeds are a major scourge for organic growers, who often must invest in multiple control methods to protect crop yields. A relatively new weed control method known as abrasive weeding, or "weed blasting," could give organic ...

Bioplastic and biofabric tested for cucumber production

June 22, 2016

The use of polyethylene mulch is a common practice in vegetable production, but environmental issues related to the disposal of petroleum-based plastic mulches have producers looking for alternatives. To address environmental ...

Recommended for you

Particles self-assemble into Archimedean tilings

December 8, 2016

(Phys.org)—For the first time, researchers have simulated particles that can spontaneously self-assemble into networks that form geometrical arrangements called Archimedean tilings. The key to realizing these structures ...

Protein disrupts infectious biofilms

December 8, 2016

Many infectious pathogens are difficult to treat because they develop into biofilms, layers of metabolically active but slowly growing bacteria embedded in a protective layer of slime, which are inherently more resistant ...

Electron highway inside crystal

December 8, 2016

Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.