The Use of Plastics in the Agriculture Industry

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The Use of Plastics in the Agriculture Industry

The use of plastics in the agriculture industry has improved crop quality and production in farms. But contrary to many common misconceptions, plastics are also used to lessen the ecological footprint of farming. Crops are protected from pests without the need for pesticides. Plastic is also a great way to mitigate temperatures, allowing crops to be grown in harsher regions like deserts.

Let’s look at the history of plastics in agriculture and then at its specific application.

History of Plastic in Agriculture

Even though plastics have been around since the 19th century, they weren’t utilized in agriculture until 1940. Initially, the use of plastic was limited to replacing glass for greenhouse applications. This allowed for greenhouse designs that captured more energy from the sun and improved crop efficiency. Plastics are still used in greenhouse designs today, but this initial application opened the door to more innovative uses.

Plastics are incorporated into pretty much every part of the cycle and create more efficient processes from planting to harvest time. Let’s explore the use of plastics in the agriculture industry today.

Greenhouses and High Tunnels

Let’s start with the first use of plastics and expand on the benefits of using plastic in the design of greenhouses and tunnels. Since plastic is more versatile than glass, it can be designed to transfer more solar radiation to plants. Glass is a lot more restricting, so it’s harder to control the intensity of sunlight. Plastic also protects plants from extreme fluctuations in temperature, allowing the growing season to be extended.

Plastic Mulch

A thin layer of plastic protects the roots of crops from extreme temperature fluctuations and also prevents weeds and pests from damaging the roots. Furthermore, the soil remains moist so areas that experience dry seasons can grow crops more efficiently. Plastic also protects the roots from pests and weeds. The bottom line is that certain areas wouldn’t be able to grow crops efficiently without the use of plastic mulch.

Plastic in Irrigation Systems

Plastic isn’t vulnerable to rust so it’s a great material for managing water flow. This makes it ideal for irrigation systems. We see most modern reservoirs built using plastics because of their longer life span. That water is then delivered to crops using PVC pipes. These cost-effective systems last for decades without the need for replacements.

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We’re also seeing a new irrigation process being implemented in areas threatened by drought. This is called micro-irrigation and has become a mandatory practice in certain areas. Micro irrigation is made possible through plastic irrigation systems and requires a lot less water than traditional irrigation systems.

Plastic in Silage

Of course, the use of plastic in the agriculture industry isn’t limited to crops. We see it used to wrap and store grains that feed farm animals. Plastic provides better protection against the elements so it can store feed items all year long. Furthermore, plastic creates an airtight seal, so the feed stays fresher for longer periods of time than older storage systems. Because of this, more and more farmers are switching from traditional steel grain bins to plastic grain bins.

Plastic Provides Tremendous Opportunities for Recycling and Recovery

One of the best features of plastic is that it’s easy to recycle and eventually restore it once it has done its job. For instance, plastic mulch is retrieved after harvest and washed to remove soil particles. Then it can be reused in the next crop or repurposed for another use. Old storage bins are recycled and transformed into new items. The list goes on and on.

The point is that older materials were not as friendly to repurposing as plastic. This adds tremendous value to investments since recycling costs are so much lower than building a new item from scratch. One investment now will provide value for the rest of your life.