Are you growing your crops in a sustainable way? Do you see yourself as a biological farmer? Do you want to reduce the cost of your production process and improve the quality of your crops? We have the right solution: the introduction of the mulching technique. Let’s analyze together how this procedure works and its advantages.
The traditional mulching process aims to protect the crops from pests, cold weather, high temperature and keep the water supply through the distribution of crop residues and manure in the soil. Today this process is carried out by biological and plastic films which are also biodegradable.
Thanks to this characteristic, at the end of the productive cycle, the soil is free from plastic residues. The speed of decomposition of biological elements changes according to the type of material (for example the decomposition of materials derived from cornstarch is faster than the ones made of cellulose) to the fertility of the soil and its microbe content. However, the speed of decomposition is inversely proportional to the duration of the film, a good material needs appropriate mechanical features in order to maintain good conditions during the work and then decompose. For this reason today mulching films made of cellulose disappeared from the market, they have been replaced by films made of Materbì, a specific material obtained by the manufacturing of cornstarch. It’s well known for its resistance, good biodegradability and a duration which is compatible with the productive cycles of crops (and variable according to the thickness). In lands characterized by a low biological activity, after one year the residue can overcome 5-6% in weight, while in lands with an high biological activity this residue disappears.
The mulching process is an old technique useful to limit the development of pests which were an enormous problem in the past, not easy to handle. The application of mulching technique can interfere with different parameters of the soil (physical, chemical and biological) with the development of crops and parasites. The reaction of the film to the light and the gas permeability influences its effects. The inner quality of the product depends on mechanical features: resistance to the traction, resistance to picking, resistance to the strike and to the stretching.
Let’s analyze in details how the mulching process carried out with a good film can modify the cultivation environment.
1. Mulching technique: warming of the soil and anticipation of the harvest
The mulching film increases the temperature of the soil with two mechanisms:
- Transparent film (made of polyethylene): the increasing of the temperature in the soil depends on global warming.
- Opaque and dark film: the increasing of the temperature depends on the absorption of the solar radiation that spread into the soil.
The application of opaque films in Spring crops allows the anticipation of maturation, in this way the harvest can reach the market as early product.
2. Mulching technique: a way to control pests
Mulching films perceivable to solar radiation, in particular to wavelength useful for the photosynthesis (between 400 and 490 nm known as blue band, between 560-700 nm known as red band), block the photosynthesis and the development of pests. In transparent mulching films characterized by the same wavelength, pests can develop anyway but they can be stopped by the mechanical holding action and the increasing of temperature carried out by the mulching film.
3. Mulching technique: the decrease of evaporation
The application of mulching films implicates a decrease of water evaporation, in this way it’s possible to preserve water supplies available for the crop. However, mulching films and biodegradable products are not completely waterproof to gas, but the passage of water vapor is restricted.
Films allows you to spare water for irrigation, which is normally supplied by a hose. This is an important solution to improve water saving in agriculture.
4. Mulching technique: reduction of fungal diseases
The application of mulching films reduces diseases caused by fungus and bacteria. This effect can be connected to other factors: the physical separation between land and the area created by the film; the micro-climatic features generated on land which are characterized by less humidity and high temperature. The decrease of crop’s sensibility to lots of pathogens can be connected to the reduction of stress which can invalidate the natural resistance of the crop.
5. Mulching technique: pressure on photosynthesis, the maturation of fruit and the removal of insects
Mulching films produce an alteration of the solar radiation available under and over the film. This phenomenon affects the development of both pests and crops. Effects produced by mulching films depends on features of transmittance, absorption and reflection for every wavelength of light and for ultraviolet rays (UV) which characterize the material.
For example, you can apply mulching films with an high reflection in order to improve the photosynthetic capability of the crop. These films have no transmittance, the light doesn’t pass and pests don’t develop. In order to encourage a more homogeneous color of fruit, you can apply films characterized by the ability of reflect only some wavelength and UV. In this case some films have different colors: black on the inside and silver on the outside.
It has been shown that the reflection of some wavelength has a negative effect on the presence of flying insects such as aphids and some lepidoptera. The reduction of these insects is connected to the reduction of virus and bacteria. In addition to this, light colors reduce the range of temperature between night and day.
The choice of color has to be made by considering the needs of the crop and the season, in order to support the heating effect (if you want to anticipate the production), the reflection (if you want to improve the solar radiation available for the crop) or halfway conditions.
6. Mulching technique: cycle of nitrogen
There are other interferences that can concern the cycle of nitrogenous compounds with a positive phenomenon regarding a less evaporation of ammonia nitrogen, obtained by the physical barrier produced by the mulching film and the biological activity of the soil. In addition, there is an acceleration of metabolic processes, connected to heat and a good level of humidity.
7. Mulching technique: integrity of the product
According to the width, the mulching film can reduce or prevent that the irrigation or the rain makes the product dirty. In order to face this problem, lots of farmers begin to work with the mulching technique also because it is important for the development of sustainable agriculture. However there are a lot of products which should benefit of a better integrity, for example tableware vegetables.
Introduction of the mulching technique in the production process
The implementation of the mulching technique implies the application of some precautions. For example, it’s important to replace sprinkler irrigation systems with hose irrigation systems because, besides the spare of water, they can overcome the barrier produced by the mulching film.
Besides it’s useful to modify the fertilization arrangements by using liquid fertilizers supplied with sprayers or fertigation.
For the implantation of the crop it’s important to work with specific equipment set up for the mulching technique or with seeding machine, capable of piercing the soil and deposit the seed. For this purpose we can suggest the Modula, an innovative precision seeding machine able to plant the seed directly on film.
There are different possibilities for the application of the mulching film: you can work with the last machine that you used for the preparation of the soil, a specific one (the mulching machine) or directly the transplanter. This choice implies a different working strategy and different benefits which have to be analyzed in the productive contest.
When the application of the mulching film is connected with the preparation of the soil, it’s easier to create flowerbeds in order to reduce problems of asphyxia in the soil by creating a rate of humidity useful for the development of roots.
The application of the mulching film can be carried out by different types of machines. It’s possible to identify machines which can work on a stretched out film, machines which create the furrow before the application and machines useful for the deposition of the seed in the soil after the application of the film.
The mulching technique offers different benefits, in this article we have seen the main 7 advantages but if you analyze each crop in details, there are more specific benefits.
This technique has to be carried out in the best way possible, in order to obtain the right benefits. The cloth and the irrigation system have to be well laid on the soil. Forigo presents different solutions such as mulching machines which can be applied alone or in combination with other machines for the preparation of the soil (such as stone buriers and bed formers).
We hope this article has been useful for you. If you have any doubt or specific question, please contact us! Our experts Forigo are always at your disposal.