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Evaluation of biodegradable mulches in fresh market sweet corn, pepper production

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Title: Evaluation of biodegradable mulches in fresh market sweet corn, pepper production
Author: Zandstra, J.W.; Squire, R.C.; Westerveld, S.; Baker, C.
Abstract: The objectives of the trial included: 1. Compare the maturity, yield and quality of sweet corn and peppers grown on degradable mulches and standard plastic mulch. 2. Compare the soil heating effects of plastic mulches and biodegradable mulches. 3.Document the rate of breakdown of degradable mulches when used in sweet corn and pepper production systems at 2 locations (Ridgetown and Simcoe). Sweet corn growers use clear plastic mulch to warm the soil and advance corn maturity when planted early in the season. Disposal of the plastic at the end of the season is presently not a problem in Ontario, but it has become an issue in other vegetable production regions of North America. It has been estimated that in excess of 500 tons of agricultural plastic is disposed of yearly in Ontario; plastic mulches are a significant contributor to this total. Recently, biodegradable mulch films have become available, which break down through microbial activity in the soil. Data is required on the length of time the biodegradable mulch will last in the field, its soil warming potential, and its effects on crop growth, yield and quality. Sweet corn mulch treatments consisted of a bare ground, standard clear 0.9 mil polyethylene mulch and five different types of clear degradable mulches: 1) CLFR (0.4 mil), 2) 75 x 6 (0.6 mil), 3) 10 x 6 (0.6 mil), 4) 15 x 6 (0.6 mil) 5) Eco One (0.4 mil). Treatments 1 to 5 are polyethylene based mulches containing an additive to allow it to biodegrade. Pepper treatments consisted of bare ground, standard polyethylene mulch (0.9 mil), and eight different types of degradable black mulches: 1) 75 x 6 dark (0.6 mil), 2) 10 x 6 dark (0.6 mil), 3) 15 x 6 dark (0.6 mil), 4) Eco One (0.6 mil), 5) BLFR72 (0.6 mil), 6) BLFR71 (0.6 mil), 7) Mater Bi green (0.5 mil), 8) Mater Bi brown (0.5 mil). Treatments 1 to 6 are polyethylene based mulches containing an additive to allow it to biodegrade. Treatments 7 and 8 are corn starch based. Degradation of clear mulches was more rapid at the Simcoe site. Why degradation occurred quicker at Simcoe may be due differences in soil type, or the fact that trickle irrigation was used on the sandy soils at Simcoe, but was not used in Ridgetown. All degradable mulches and clear plastic mulch advanced harvest by 7 days when compared to bare soil, with the exception of CLFR, which only advanced maturity by 3 days. All plots with mulches improved total and marketable yields and there were no differences amoung the mulches. The 75x6 degradable mulch and clear plastic advanced maturity of sweet corn the greatest at the Simcoe site (7 days), while Eco One provided no benefits advancing maturity; this is due to its rapid degradation. There was no significant yield improvement when using mulch at the Simcoe site; bare soil yields similar to the yield of all mulch treatments except Eco One, which was significantly reduced . Mater Bi mulches provided the greatest soil warming at the Ridgetown site, often better than black plastic; as expected, bare soil was the coolest treatment. Mater Bi Green also provided greater soil warming at the Simcoe site. The Mater Bi (green and brown) BLFR (71 and 72) and Eco One mulch degraded the fastest, which the Eco One and Mater Bi mulches being largely degraded 60 days after application at both sites.. At both sites, 10x6, 15x6 and 75x6 mulches were largely intact in late August. There was no benefit to using soil mulches in 2007 at either site; there were no differences among all treatments in respect to early yields, fruit characteristics, and total yields. In conclusion, there are several mulches which perform similarly to standard plastic mulch and may be a potential replacement.
Date: 2009-03-11

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