Assessing the potential for spunbond, nonwoven biodegradable fabric as mulches for tomato and bell pepper crops

Sam E. Wortman, Ignatius Kadoma, Michael D. Crandall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Polyethylene film is commonly used in intensive vegetable production, but disposal concerns have growers seeking sustainable alternatives. Potentially biodegradable plastic films (bioplastics) and fabrics (biofabrics) can be made from renewable materials, are compostable, and may degrade in the soil after the growing season, but there are questions about the field performance of these products. A two-year study was conducted in tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) and bell pepper (Capsicum annuum L.) across two climatically diverse locations in Illinois, USA to compare performance among two bioplastic films (Eco Film and Bio Telo) and four experimental spunbond, nonwoven biofabrics (3M Company). Soil temperature and moisture, mulch durability and deterioration, weed suppression, and crop yield data were collected throughout each growing season. Bioplastic films began deteriorating as early as 3-5 weeks after transplanting crops, which contributed to increased weed emergence and evaporative soil water loss. In contrast, the BK-1-270 biofabric mulch did not deteriorate during the growing season, increased soil moisture throughout the season by up to 3.0% relative to bare soil, and eliminated weed competition. Bioplastic films increased soil temperatures by as much as 1.7. °C in northern Illinois and 2.3. °C in central Illinois, whereas soil temperatures were not different between bare soil and biofabrics. Increased soil temperature can hasten crop development and increase yield in cooler climates, but can also contribute to physiological stress and root disease in warmer climates. Biofabric and bioplastic mulches did not increase tomato or pepper fruit yields relative to bare soil. However, biofabrics may be useful in situations where soil warming is not desirable (e.g., warmer climates), but moisture conservation and weed control are essential (e.g., organic cropping systems).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-217
Number of pages9
JournalScientia Horticulturae
Volume193
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2 2015

Keywords

  • Biofabric
  • Biomulch
  • Organic agriculture
  • Plasticulture
  • Renewable agriculture
  • Soil moisture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Horticulture

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