Increasing crop production standards is one of the main objectives of farmers worldwide, which explains why instead of decreasing their popularity, the use of plastic films has grown, gaining the trust of more growers, and becoming one of the best alternatives to obtain higher productivity with lesser inputs to meet the world’s food and nutritional demand.
At the same time, using agricultural plastic films reduces the ecological footprint, typical of agricultural activity, and allows growers to:
- save more water,
- control temperature levels during the day and night,
- minimize pesticide emissions into the atmosphere and
- recycle the material after its useful life expires.
While today the range of options of plastic films available on the market is quite diverse, such as polyethene, polypropylene, ethylene-vinyl acetate copolymer, vinyl polychloride, polycarbonate and polymethylmethacrylate, the reality is that many times agricultural producers don’t know how to install agricultural plastics.
To clarify these doubts, we have a series of recommendations that could be especially useful, even to know when to install agricultural plastics.
To know how and when to install agricultural plastics, it is necessary to have the necessary expertise to determine which plastic films work for each specific crop and at what specific moment of the crop cycle can they offer the best agronimcal support.
Below, we mention some of the most common uses of plastic films in agriculture and when they are used:
Certainly, silage bunker covers are one of the most popular examples, since they are a cost-effective buffer solution to store grains and diverse fodder to feed farm animals, especially as an answer to reserves over winter or drought situations. This type of plastic is usually very resistant, allowing to preserve the feed longer.
These structures are ideal to help plants grow in a controlled environment in spite of adverse outdoor conditions. The entry of natural light permits the plants to activate their physiological properties.
Agricultural producers use these plastics when they want to create the perfect scenario for certain crops to grow faster and in a safer manner, avoiding extremely hot or cold temperatures and protecting crops from external factors that can be harmful.
When it comes to greenhouses, taking full advantage of the light supply is vital, so that plants can grow optimally, and the crop has a good yield. The correct use of this natural resource should be carefully considered, especially in greenhouses located in northern areas of the United States and Canada, due to the difficult and sometimes extreme weather conditions that could represent a significant reduction in sunlight supply.
It is important to protect the plastic at the points of contact with the structure, and also keep the wires and structural materials in good condition to extend the life of the cover. Adequate height and good ventilation will also be factors that will help achieve the guaranteed useful life of a plastic film. We recommend reading our article about the orientation of greenhouses for the optimization of natural sunlight resources.
Mulching to cover the soil
Photo: F. Kesselring, FKuR Willich
In this case, the plastic is used to cover the soil so as to maintain its constant moisture as evaporation occurs. The retention of heat in the planting area helps to achieve harvests sooner, which are also more uniform in yield, healthier and better-looking in commercial terms. This is ideal when you want to avoid the contact of the plant with the soil, improve the thermal conditions of the roots of the plant and prevent the arrival of weeds that could compete with the plant for nutrients and water.
With small tunnels
They tend to look a lot like mini-greenhouse structures except that they lack their complexity and height. Plastics are used in these structures when you want to obtain products such as strawberries, watermelon and asparagus, among others.
These are plastic sheets that are placed on the crop after planting to create a favourable microclimate for the plants at a specific time and area of growth, thus promoting at the same time a more homogeneous quality, larger size and a certain earliness (1 to 2 weeks). They are used when growers want to reduce phytosanitary treatments and protect the crop using a cheaper and easier-to-use alternative through a physical barrier.
In irrigation systems and plastic deposits
To effectively manage water resources and take full advantage of them plastics are used to contain water and/or guarantee the impermeabilization of surfaces. Plastic water reservoirs are ideal when water needs to be stored for later distribution through different irrigation systems, pipes or canal systems that are directly connected to the crops.
How to install agricultural plastics
There are some aspects to consider before defining how to install agricultural plastics. One of them is to analyse the use and handling that you will give to that plastic. For example, knowing if the idea is to place a plastic film that would only last one growing season, or if on the contrary, the objective is to have a plastic film that can be used throughout several seasons and can be moved easily, depending on the climatic requirements of each region and the temperature changes that occur in the area.
Another aspect is to determine whether the objective to be achieved is an early harvest or to extend it for a longer period instead. The possibility to play with production windows enables farmers to compete, especially in export markets, through the advance-delay of their yields.
The advantage of using agricultural plastics is to be able to create a more controlled and protected environment that allows minimizing the risk factors that can negatively affect the integrity of the crop, causing the plants to stress and lose their good appearance, quality and nutritional values.
According to Alejandro Martínez, VP Sales at the Solplast factory (Spain), the following positive effects can be achieved using plastic films, especially in greenhouses and tunnels:
- crops are protected from the fluctuations in temperatures, rain, winds or hail and can grow in a relatively free-stress environment,
- natural conditions during the flowering and formation stage of the branch improve,
- the thicker stem or height of flowers can be improved,
- bigger size and weight of the fruits are obtained,
- earliness of 7-10 days can be achieved and
- a significant increase in production is also real (between 10% and 25%).
Today, more companies are manufacturing plastics specifically designed to meet the current needs of different crops and climates. The goal is to obtain plastics that meet the life expectancy of the product and have the necessary balance between endurance, strength and flexibility as well as controlling necessary agronomical features (light, temperature, humidity).
Agricultural plastics are a unique speciality and therefore require constant investment in terms of state-of-the-art technology to develop new options that can be applied in crops and diverse geographical areas where agriculture must be sustainable and profitable.
To learn more about the importance of quality plastic films, we recommend reading our article on the quality of agricultural plastics.
Also, if you have any questions about the use of agricultural plastics, do not hesitate to contact us. You can write to us directly through the contact page or to any of our experts whose contact information you will find on this page as well.