A perfect climate for root and shoot
As both the global population and urbanisation increases, the prices of staple foods such as wheat and rice have escalated in recent years and there are fears of rising food scarcity in many areas of the world.
As a consequence there is a need to improve agricultural yields and maximise the efficiency of farming methods, by whatever route possible.
One challenge for farmers is to produce earlier, more consistent harvests with a minimum of wastage or damage to crops. Here, nonwoven crop covers can be of considerable assistance. Their use has been proven to both increase yields and improve the quality of crops, since when these very light, flexible sheets are laid over seed beds they create a micro-climate in which heat and humidity are controlled. As a consequence, the growth of plants can be accelerated and they are also protected from both adverse weather conditions and pests. Another function of such crop covers is to help unify crop sizes, whilst also allowing controlled amounts of water, light and fertiliser to penetrate, making earlier sowing and harvesting possible.
Crop covers need to be highly adaptable to suit wide climatic variations and crop types and nonwovens can be engineered in respect of their strength, durability, elasticity and light transmission properties to provide the best characteristics. Some crop covers even need to be tough enough to resist abrasion from the crop itself, such as strawberry plants which can wear holes in flimsier materials, thus allowing potentially harmful insectsto enter. Physical dimensions are also critical, and leading manufacturers of these materials have developed products for a wide range of applications – from open field cover to macro tunnels.
Farming, however, is becoming bigger all the time, and in many countries modern industrial processes have resulted in individual fields being bigger than entire farms used to be, since they can now be handled more efficiently and with fewer people.
As a consequence, super-wide products have been developed by a number of INDEX™ exhibitors.
Fiberweb, a company which is now part of Berry Plastics, designed and developed a unique welding line to manufacture a product that is no less than 30 metres wide, employing an extruded polypropylene, rather than glue, in the converting process. As a consequence, the joints have the same chemical properties and perform exactly like rest of the nonwoven crop cover when exposed to temperature, moisture and sunlight. This uniformity also makes the product easier to recycle at the end of its life. Larger rolls need to be robust during installation, so a reinforcing layer can also be added at the roll edges of the super-wide product to ensure easy installation.
Berry Plastics brands its range of crop protection products Covertan Pro.
Nonwoven capillary mats for sub-irrigation in the horticultural industry have been a specialised field for another long-standing INDEX™ exhibitor, Fibertex of Denmark, for the past twenty-five years.
The company works in close co-operation with the European potted plant industry and its products are engineered to optimise both water absorption, distribution and storage and the distribution of fertilizers for each individual plant.
The special fibre mix of the Fibertex mats is said to guarantee rewetting and avoid dry spots during the use of the products over several years. In addition to their strength and durability, they are highly resistant to fungi and rot, can be easily cleaned and can be cut without fraying.
Trees and vines
Polypropylene nonwovens also bring many benefits as tree and vine shelters and these are the specialist area of UK business Tubex, which is now also part of Berry Plastics.
When used in new vineyards, the nonwovens ensure the uniform growth of vines and are very efficient for inter-plantation, since they allow a young plant to develop in an environment of strong competition from weeds or from more established vines.
The Tubex viticulture range includes vine shelters of different diameters and heights which are suitable for use with any vine variety in any vineyard. They are easy to use and again provide both protection and an improved micro-climate, promoting accelerated, healthy balanced growth and a well-balanced ‘root to shoot’ ratio.
As a result, the key benefits of such products include:
- Stronger growth of leader shoots.
- Reduced pruning during establishment.
- Earlier cropping.
- Better survival rates.
- Protection from animals.
- Protection from herbicide or weeds.
- Protection from mechanical maintenance.
- Lower labour costs.
Using nonwovens as tree shelters, meanwhile, allows for the planting of smaller trees which are cheaper and easier to source, and ultimately lead to trees with stronger roots.
A 2011 Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) by Swansea University also established that tree shelters have a net beneficial impact on the environment.
The study found that the cradle-to-grave environmental footprint associated with tree shelters is positively offset through two key footprint savings that their use provides. Firstly, the footprint associated with the practice of beating up – replacing trees that have died shortly after planting – and secondly, footprint reduction through the use of smaller two-year-old plants (rather than three-year-old plants which are typically used when fencing alone is employed).
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