Home' Grower : November 2013 Contents Plastic mulch
The South Australian Grower -- November 2013 17
A hole or tear
lead to further
Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry researcher
Sarah Limpus, Bowen, says that although there are big benefits in using
degradable plastic mulches, their brittle nature presents some challenges.
Degradable plastic to
be handled with care
By ASHLEY WALMSLEY
IT sounds like the solution to a huge environ-
mental wastage problem for agriculture but
Australian farmers are a long way from convert-
ing entirely to degradable plastic mulches.
At the 2013 Australian Melon Industry
Conference, Queensland Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry researcher
Sarah Limpus, Bowen, provided her insights from
looking at various trials of biodegradable and
Ms Limpus' research compared the degradable
products to that of the standard polyethylene
plastic. Traditionally, the clean-up and disposal
of polyethylene plastic has created a headache for
farmers. The degradable mulches themselves are
produced in different thicknesses, with 12 micron
and 15M the most common. While 12M breaks
down faster once the crop is finished, the 15M
provides more stability for handling and greater
For the newer products on the market to be
commercially viable, they have to provide compa-
rable yields to that of standard plastics.
Ms Limpus said there was a relatively low
adoption rate among smallcrop growers for the
An additional advantage for some degradable
plastics is the potential for the easy removal of
trickle tape irrigation.
Due to the brittle nature of the degradable
plastic by the end of a crop, the trickle tape can be
ripped up through the plastic rather than having to
remove the plastic first.
One of the reoccurring themes to the trials was
the challenge presented from working with the
temperamental nature of the degradable plastics.
"Handle it with care," Ms Limpus said. "You've
got to be very careful with it when laying."
ALTHOUGH they often get referred to in the same
context, there are actually two different types of
degradable plastic mulches.
Enhanced environmentally degradable polyethylene
is prepared by blending with biodegradable additives
or photo-initiators or by copolymerization.
Biodegradable plastics, on the other hand, are
converted to water, carbon and biomass through
Biodegradable plastics contain starch and polyesters,
and can be synthesised from renewable resources
such as vegetable oils or petro-chemicals.
A small tear to a roll of material during transpor-
tation can lead to a larger tear or complete splitting
later on. This means more time is generally needed
when laying the degradable mulches.
One of her recommendations was that degrada-
ble mulches may not be suitable for gravely or very
cloddy soils because of the piercing or breaking
Another of her recommendations was to store
the material in a dark, dry place for no more than
Part of the conference included a look at degra-
dable mulch trials from Agriplas, Econverte and
Amcor, where growers could inspect the integrity
of the products first hand.
What's the difference?
Mulch thickness compared
Handle 'temperamental' nature
Avoid gravely, cloddy soil
Degradable products have a
relatively low adoption rate
among smallcrop growers
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