High-quality, premium price wheat grown under degradable plastic
The nonprofit Australian Materials Technology Network’s free e-newsletter ‘Future Materials’ (FM) shares materials development info from around the world. FM believes smaller businesses often miss out on opportunities for advancement because they simply don’t have the structures and people in place to monitor the many rapidly evolving technologies available.
FM’s November e-news reports on an announcement earlier this year by the new Polymer Cooperative Research Centre (CRC-P). Early results from placing a special plastic film over wheat crops during planting show accelerated plant growth that encourages vigorous, high-quality crops despite dry field conditions.
The low-cost plastic covering can be applied to rows of crops using a fully automated system. It provides a temporary greenhouse environment that warms the soil and retains existing moisture in the soil and the plastic eventually degrades in the sunlight.
Field trials in dry area with marginal rainfall
In Birchip, Victoria, trials have shown that, compared to the control crop, wheat that germinated under the film had higher protein content and lower moisture content in seeds. Wheat with these two key qualities commands premium prices in the market.
The technology relies on the plastic film being degraded by sunlight so that plants can penetrate the weakening film at a critical time in their growing cycle without physical damage, and before they suffer heat stress.
Agricultural plastic films are already commercially used overseas on maize crops, but the CRC-P scientists are developing technology that controls and adjusts the rate of film degradation to suit the growing pattern of Australian crops such as wheat, barley, and cotton.
Partners in the research on films include: the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Queensland and the Swinburne University of Technology. The commercial partner is Integrated Packaging Pty Ltd. The CRC-P is conducting further tests on different films developed using innovative polymer technology.
The research team is currently running four trials. In South Australia and NSW, the film is being tested on wheat. In Victoria, it is being tested on wheat and lentils, and in Queensland, on maize and sorghum. A fifth trial is being planned for use on cotton in Narrabri, NSW.