This Is Plastics: Plastics Have Revolutionized Modern Farming By Keeping Yields High and Waste Low


Plastics Have Revolutionized Modern Farming By Keeping Yields High and Waste Low

Plastics keep vegetables, flowers and herbs safe from extreme weather and pests, extend growing seasons and increase access to fresh food.


Plastics are vital to the production of fruits and vegetables at every step of the life cycle. From farming and agriculture to shipping, transport and packaging, plastics reduce food waste by keeping food fresher for longer from farm to table. The modern farming industry relies on plastics to produce fruits and vegetables all year round and keep plants safe from pests. With plastics, yields rise and farmers are able to grow more produce, providing more nutritious food at a lower cost, accessible to all consumers.

Hoop houses increase accessibility to healthy food

Hoop houses, also known as non-engineered greenhouses, are made from heavy duty ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) plastic draped over tubular steel frames. These light and durable structures create a type of solar greenhouse in which crops grow directly into soil but are sheltered by the structure. The houses require no artificial lighting or temperature controls and are inexpensive to buy and operate, for both industrial and DIY home uses.

Hoop houses extend the growing season by keeping crops in snowy or colder climates warm, protecting produce from beating hot sun in hotter climates, and nurturing more sensitive crops for weather all in between. Hoop houses also protect soil quality and reduce water, which reduces costs for farmers and increases access to locally grown healthy food. According to the Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative, which originally piloted hoop houses as an alternative growing technique, this simple technology boosts profitability for farmers, helping this vital part of our economy remain healthy and strong, and allowing more investments to be made in growing seasons.

While the thin, but durable, layer of plastic surrounding plants allows in the sun’s rays, it prevents harmful pests from entering and destroying crops. Common insects like cucumber beetles, squash bugs, leaf miners and small flying insects like whitefly or leafhoppers, which can easily destroy crops and significantly reduce yields, can all be avoided by utilizing hoop houses. According to University of Georgia professor and extension plant pathologist Elizabeth Little, hoop houses also protect vegetables from rain-induced diseases. Research by the American Society for Horticultural Science found that this simple technology is also helping farmers grow their bottom lines by ensuring that crops are not lost to pests or extreme weather. Hoop houses are the future of farming and they are made possible by the durability of plastic.

Plastic netting keeps produce safe

While plastic hoop houses seem like a silver bullet for solving many modern farming challenges, other durable plastic products are also helping keep yields high and costs low for farmers and consumers. Plastic netting, which is made from durable polypropylene plastic, is lightweight plastic mesh that can be draped over trees, vines or bushes to protect produce from birds and other pests. Netting is used to reduce crop loss and streamline farming practices, particularly for grapes, stone fruits and other produce on trees. Plastic netting is also UV-stabilized, weather-, tear- and rot-resistant helping to ensure that produce only experiences benefits from its use but that the product can be reused repeatedly over many growing seasons.

In the global wine industry, netting is used by many producers each season to protect ripening fruit from local bird populations as well as reduce ever-more-extreme weather conditions. In addition to protecting crops from birds, farmers in Italy found that nets reduced wind speed by up to 85% and photosynthesis by up to 25%, ensuring that plants were also being protected against climate change disruptors. To prevent any impact on bird populations, netting with different hole sizes can be purchased depending on the make up of the local bird population. Netting enables more efficient growing processes without impacting local fauna and also reduces costs for farmers as netting can be used many times.

Recycling in agricultural plastic is growing

While the increase in plastic usage has produced widespread benefits for farmers and consumers, from reducing crop loss to increasing accessibility to fresh fruit and vegetables, proper end-of-life management of plastic products is key to ensuring this industry remains sustainable. According to the Director of Cornell University’s Recycling Agricultural Plastics Program, Lois Levitan, agricultural plastic only accounts for about 2% of all plastic generated in the United States. However, new programs to turn agricultural plastic waste into garbage bags, sidewalk pavers, and plastic lumber are helping find new, more sustainable end-of-life opportunities.

Cleanfarms, an agricultural recycling organization in Canada, has set up nearly 50 recycling sites for farmers to drop off grain bags that can be then recycled and reused, creating a more circular economy for the industry. Similar grain bag collection programs have been set up in the United States to encourage sustainable agricultural practices. Grain bag collection programs have spurred new pilot programs in Canada to collect other recyclable agricultural products like polypropylene twine that can then be recycled into new products.

Plastic is a simple, yet vital tool for farmers across the world. Netting and hoop houses reduce crop loss by protecting produce from pests and extreme weather conditions, while also reducing resource usage. This increases access to locally grown produce for all consumers and supports a health bottom line for farmers. With new recycling programs in place, the agricultural industry can both reap the benefits of plastic while also maintaining high sustainability standards.

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