Mulch Films

Polyethylene plastic film was first used as mulch in the late 1950s. It helps to accelerate plant growth by increasing soil temperature and stabilizing soil moisture. When scheduled drip (or trickle) irrigation is used, plastic mulch helps maintain optimum soil moisture, aids plant establishment, and promotes excellent crop growth throughout the season [47]. The vegetables on plastic mulch routinely mature 1 -2 weeks earlier than those on bare ground. Plastic mulch also helps protect vegetables from decay by preventing contact with contaminated soil. In addition, black plastic and other wavelength-selective having additive to block photosynthetically active light mulches also control most weed growth.

Cantaloupe, tomato, pepper, cucumber, squash, eggplant, watermelon, and okra are high-value vegetable crops that show significant increases in yield and/or fruit quality when grown on plastic mulch. Other crops such as sweet corn, snap bean, and southern pea show similar responses. It promotes yield of maize grown under greenhouses to be 2.4 tons per hectare more than the plants grown conventionally [46, 47]. Table 5.8 shows the major advantages and disadvantages of a number of films.

Table 5.8 Advantages Versus Disadvantages for Mulch Films

Advantage Disadvantage

Earlier production

Soil temperature at the 2-inch depth is increased up to 10°F under black plastic, which leads to production 1 -2 weeks earlier

Reduced leaching of ingredients

It caused reduction of fertilizer, nitrogen, potassium, magnesium

Reduced weed problems

Since black plastic mulch does not transmit light, it prevents the growth of weeds

Reduced evaporation

Soil water evaporation is reduced under plastic mulch

Enhanced soil fumigation

Improves the effectiveness of soil fumigation by slowing the escape of fumigants from the soil

Yield increase

Results from many factors acting synergistically

Mulch films constitute the application with the biggest extension of land covered worldwide (about 4 million hectares). Mulch films are designed to have a short life span and normally have less contact with critical agro-chemicals during their service life [49]. Mulch films are made with thickness, between 10 and 80 ^m. Usually pigments, mainly carbon black, titanium dioxide, and organic pigments are incorporated into their formulation. However, they require proper light and thermal stabilization additives with intermediate chemical resistance.

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