Mount Vernon Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center

Vegetable Research and Extension

Photo collage of watermelon tasting, tractor, dry beans

Alternative to Plastic Mulch

Introduction

Weed control is one of the primary concerns in organic farming as it is labor intensive, expensive and time consuming. Since its introduction in the 1950s, black plastic mulch has become a valuable tool for many farmers to control weeds, increase plant production, and shorten time to harvest. Though very effective and affordable, plastic mulch has become an environmental management concern due to disposal issues.

In 1999, almost 30 million acres worldwide were covered with plastic mulch and more than 185,000 of those acres were in the United States. Essentially all of this plastic entered the waste stream. Recently, agricultural plastic recycling has begun, however, the disposal option that most growers choose is the landfill.

A number of degradable mulch films have been developed that may work as environmentally-friendly alternatives to plastic mulch. At WSU Vancouver Research and Extension Unit, we are testing such products in order to find effective, affordable, degradable alternatives to standard plastic mulch which would contribute the same production benefits and reduce non-recyclable and non-renewable waste.

Presentations

Paper mulch, part of the series Weed 'Em and Reap. Produced by Oregon State University. Carol Miles, Martin Nicholson, and Lydia Garth, Washington State University. Vancouver WA

Research Reports

2007 Research Trial. This study included 8 degradable mulches: Garden Biofilm, Garden Biofilm NF01U/P 15 mic, Garden Biofilm NF803/P 12 mic, Garden Biofilm NF803/P 15 mic, Longview Fibre Paper (LF) 4, LF 5, LF 5 Black, Planters Paper, and black plastic (control). The study was conducted in the field at the Washington State University Research and Extension Unit in Vancouver, Washington and included four vegetable crops: lettuce, broccoli, green peppers and watermelon.

2006 Research Trial. This study included 9 degradable mulches: Garden Biofilm, Garden Biofilm NF01U/P 15 mic, Garden Biofilm NF803/P 12 mic, Garden Biofilm NF803/P 15 mic, Envirocare 1, Envirocare 2, Longview Fibre Paper (LF) 4, LF 5, Planters Paper and black plastic (control). The study was conducted in the field at the Washington State University Research and Extension Unit in Vancouver, Washington and included four vegetable crops: lettuce, broccoli, green peppers and watermelon.

2005 Research Trial. This study included eight degradable mulches: Garden Biofilm, Envirocare 1, Envirocare 2, Longview Fibre Paper (LF) 1, LF 2, LF 3, LF 4, Planters Paper and black plastic (control). The study was conducted in the field at the Washington State University Research and Extension Unit in Vancouver, Washington and included four vegetable crops: lettuce, broccoli, green peppers and watermelon.

2004 Research Trial. This study included five degradable mulches and black plastic: 81-lb Kraft brown paper, 42-lb Kraft brown paper with polyethylene coating, Garden BioFilm, Envirocare 1 (XP-4611W), Envirocare 2 (XP-4611J), black plastic (control).

2003 Research Trial. This study included six mulch treatments: Garden Bio-Film, 81-lb Kraft paper, Kraft paper + linseed oil, Kraft paper + tung oil, Kraft paper + soybean oil, and black plastic (control). Oil was sprayed onto the paper prior to laying the paper in the field, and its purpose was to reduce the rate of paper degradation in the field.

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