A trial project called “HAL Project MT09068- Comparison of biodegradable mulch products to polyethylene in irrigated vegetable, tomato and melon crops”, has been recently carried out in Queensland, led by the Bowen Research Facility of the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
The project has been funded by Horticulture Australia, using voluntary contributions from the Bowen-Gumlu Growers Association, Novamont and the Queensland Government with matched funding from the Australian Government.
Main purpose of the project was to find alternative to traditional plastic film for mulching, since this product is widely used by local farmer due to its benefit on cultivation practice, but its disposal after usage is considered a problem by growers and a major environmental issue by the industry. In an effort to solve the agricultural plastic waste dilemma, Bowen and Gumlu vegetable, tomato and melon growers have been trialling biodegradable mulch film products that today are fully produced in Australia, using an Italian raw material called Mater-Bi, which complies with Australian Standard AS 4736 “Biodegradable plastics suitable for composting and other microbial treatment”, and is certificated by AIB Vincotte “Ok Biodegradable in soil
In the HAL Project final report is explained:
“The Mater-Bi mulch film was evaluated against traditional plastic products with admirable results. Yields of honeydew melon, rock melon, capsicum, tomato, eggplant and chilli transplanted into Mater-Bi were comparable with those grown in polyethylene films and provided good weed suppression for the life of the crop.”
Analysed parameters were:
- Rate of mulch degradation below ground
- Longevity of mulch cover and integrity above ground
- Retention of desirable characteristics such as flexibility, elasticity and strength
- Adequate suppression of weed growth
- Maintenance of yields comparable to polyethylene mulch film production
The trial clearly shows that: Mater-Bi biodegradable mulch film performed well over the season, with no majordifferences compared to polyethylene.Brittleness and biodegradation declined over time as expected, while small losses of bed cover in the Mater-Bi treatments did not affect yields or weed growth significantly. Mater-Bi has a higher content of renewable resources than its predecessor and no visible traces remained in the field six months after being disced into soil. Being manufactured in Australia, the new generation Mater-Bi is an ideal alternative for polyethylene replacement, keeping costs low.
The biodegradable mulch film evaluation work is in the last six months of the project. The aim of the project is to accelerate the development of practical solutions to the plastic waste problem evaluating alternative mulch films against the standard. This has risultated in the identification, development and evaluation of mulch films which biodegrade or degrades into non-toxic substances.
These films must maintain yields, provide superior bed cover and weed suppression. This will reduce labour and machinery costs associated with lifting and collection of small pieces of traditional plastic. It will also reduce costs of transport to and disposal limited capacity landfill.
Results so far:
A number of products were evaluated againts traditional black and black on white polyethylene mulch films. In 2009, biodegradable mulch film Mater-Bi, marketed by Australian Bio-Plasticsprovided adequate bed coverage and weed suppression for the life of crops, comparable to polyethylene, in tomato, capsicum, cucumber, honey dew melon, Lebanese eggplant and chilli.
Evaluations have reported no significant yield differences in biodegradable products compared to traditional plastic. All treatments provide adequate bed coverage throughout the life of the crop.
To download the whole project report, click here.
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