Biodegradable Mulch: Beginning to Address Plastic Waste in Berries
When we talk of berry production in the Monterey Bay area, we also talk of using a lot of plastic - from the bed covers for strawberries, to the tunnels for caneberries to the weedmats in the anchor rows of those tunnels. Not to even mention the inputs for clamshells. It's all quite necessary as we all know, but it's a lot of plastic nonetheless.
Consider for example that according to a recent news release from Science Daily that the amount of plastic flowing into the ocean could triple in quantity from where it is more or less today to 2040. That's something to think about, article here.
It's a bit unnerving that we may be contributing to that colossal output of trash, but do not fear - your extensionists in berry culture on the West Coast are not standing by idly! In collaboration with Drs Lisa Devetter and Carol Miles from Washington State University Extension and local point person Pam Krone of the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary, I have been spooling up a program to address this, in particular, but not necessarily restricted to, the use of Biodegradable Plastic Mulches (BDM). These recent iterations are much beyond the "biodegradable plastics" of a few decades ago that were stuff that really didn't degrade too well, these definitely do.
The issue of course is getting BDM to work well in the current production practices in California - for example it won't serve much if they totally fall apart mid-season, rip when applied or reduce yield because they are the wrong color, too thick, too thin, you get the picture.
To that end, again with Dr Devetter and Dr Miles from WSU extension and Pam Krone, we've held a well attended meeting earlier this year at my office (pre-covid) and together with local research vendor Plant Sciences, Inc and its crackerjack field crew held an in field meet up (of very small size mind you with all masks and distancing observed) in June with several interested and committed growers and researchers to get the wrinkles out of the first critical step of field plastic use; the layout.
All went well, and we are now looking to lay the plastics out on several farms this fall for a full season look.
Stay tuned, this one will be getting bigger; there's some very competent and committed people involved here.
BDM layout practice June 2020.