Options To Plastic Mulch In Vegetable Production

by John Kempf, Founder of AEA

October 6, 2015

Crisp fall weather is here, all of us are busy wrapping up a challenging growing season. The weather extremes in June and July were very stressful on both crops and farmers. On AEA Pure Dawn Farm in Orwell Ohio, we experienced standing water in our fields for close to four weeks, which lead to crops with almost nonexistent root systems. 

 

On several occasions in the last few years, I have expressed the opinion that we need to develop farm management systems for vegetable production in the Midwest rainfall area that is not reliant on the use of plastic mulch. The weather we experienced this growing season amplifies why we should begin thinking about growing crops without plastic. Early in September, I visited a farm in central Ohio which is growing fall brassicas. On this farm I observed the healthiest cabbage crop I have seen all year, anywhere in the country, being grown with no plastic mulch and no drip irrigation. There are farms we work with that have demonstrated similar successes with no irrigation of vegetable crops in the field. The key to their success seems to be the use of consistent foliar applications through the entire growing season. With the support of foliar nutrient applications, these plants seem to develop very large and vigorous root systems that perform much better at absorbing water and nutrients than plants who are irrigated sporadically. 

 

There are specific advantages to the use of plastic mulch, particularly to warm soil in early spring. We need to take advantage of the benefits of plastic where it best fits, and reconsider the routine use of plastic as the essential way to grow a crop.

 

2015 has been an intense growing season. We have learned a lot of new information about how to grow crops that actively repel bacterial infections, and do not spoil in storage. Many farmers know that healthier plants produce fruit with a higher density, specific gravity, or test weight, with a much lower water content. How can you manage to have the highest quality, and also have the highest yields when your fruit is sold by weight, and a lot of it is water? Processing tomatoes, potatoes, watermelons and others can all experience this challenge. We are learning about how to manage for top quality, without compromising on yields per acre. 

 

I am looking forward to discussing what we have learned at our seminars this winter. There will be a lot of new ideas that have not been discussed before.  See you then!