On the virtues of Plastic Mulch

In rural China, entire landscapes have already been transformed by ultra-thin poly-ethylene plastic foils. The total area under plastic mulch in China is enormous. One estimate puts it at 7 million hectares. , but this may well be a conservative number. Even then, the plastic mulch coverage in China is five to ten times more than the entire area under drip irrigation in the world. It is twice the total irrigated area of Mexico.

There are many reasons why more than 80 million Chinese farmers make use of plastic mulch. Not least among its range of uses is the water saving, and the ability to grow crops in dry areas where it would be otherwise impossible.

Another important benefit is that plastic mulch increases soil temperature. Especially in cold areas, this may pre-pone the growing season by three to four weeks. Plastic mulch also suppresses weeds. Here colour matters: white or black plastic blocks out sunlight and avoids the scourge of weeds, whereas agricultural crops are transplanted through opening in the foils. Black varieties help to heat up the soil more effectively.

The main issue now is the risk of pollution. After being used for a year the torn and damaged poly-ethylene has to be removed. If not, it will screw up the soil and nothing will easily germinate.

Biodegradeable mulch has been around for some time, but often the price is still higher than the ‘pure plastic’ varieties. If truly bio-degradable, the mulch may on disintegration even add to the soil – nutrients and water. If this happens there is nothing that can or should stop the plastic revolution.

More info: Blog: The Coming Plastic Revolution
Produced by: TheWaterChannel
Year: 2013
Language: Chinese with English subtitles
Region: China, Asia

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