We have developed an environmentally-friendly, sprayable biodegradable polymer membrane product that can help farmers produce more during harvest, on the same land area, while using less water, nutrients and agrochemicals.
Growing more food, using less resources
The world's population is growing, requiring food production to double by 2050 to feed an expected nine billion people. The need to expand our food production output is also impacting the environment through the use of fertilisers and other chemicals.
Agricultural plastics, such as polyethylene, are widely used in crop production as covers to control weeds, conserve soil moisture and regulate soil temperature. However, retrieval of these plastics is labour intensive and clogs landfills; whereas burning the plastic results in undesirable environmental impacts by releasing greenhouse gasses, dioxins and airborne pollutants.
Overseas, in China alone the use of plastic film coverage reached approximately 20 million hectares in 2011, and in 2004 approximately 143,000 tons of plastic mulch was disposed of in the USA. When factoring in the environmental cost of producing all of this petroleum-based plastic, this becomes a global problem throughout the product's lifecycle.
We have developed a biodegradable polymer membrane technology for use in agricultural crop production systems. The polymer membrane can be applied using existing hand sprays or large agricultural spray machines, making it accessible to small scale farmers in developing countries and large scale highly mechanised farmers and agribusinesses in developed countries.
Transitioning to sprayable biodegradable polymer membrane technology will offer farmers considerable flexibility and help eliminate the costs associated with retrieval and disposal of plastics, and eliminate the pollution of our soil and water systems associated with current petroleum-based products.
Water savings invested into crop growth
Our sprayable technology has been demonstrated in irrigated field plot trials using melons, sorghum and cotton. These trials have confirmed increases in crop water productivity in excess of 30 per cent, while also assisting to control weeds.
Achieving our initial target of using 10 per cent less water with no yield loss in Australian irrigated agriculture would free up more than 1,000 gigalitres of water, which could be used for growing additional crops or improving environmental flows in our waterways.
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