Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgayal Agriculture in the coming times has to be practiced using scarce resources. The land is shrinking, water bodies are diminishing and other natural resources are under tremendous strain due to their overuse. The big question before the scientific community is how to increase the production using these scarce resources. How can we get two to three times more crops on less land, using half as much water when compared to traditional farming methods? Of the different alternatives, Plasticulture has emerged as one of the innovative farming technique where we can get more of produce with use of minimum resources. The term ‘plasticulture’ refers to the practice of using plastic materials in agricultural applications. Plasticulture include soil fumigation film, irrigation drip tape/tubing, nursery pots and silage bags, but the term is most often used to describe all kinds of plastic plant/soil coverings. Such coverings range from plastic mulch film, row coverings, high and low tunnels (poly-tunnels), to plastic greenhouses. The plastic materials themselves are often and broadly referred to as ‘agricultural plastics.’ Polyethylene (PE) is the plastic film used by the majority of growers because of its affordability, flexibility and easy manufacturing. It comes in a variety of thicknesses, such as a low density form (LDPE) as well as a linear low density form (LLDPE). These can be modified by addition of certain elements to the plastic that give it properties beneficial to plant growth such as reduced water loss, Ultra violet stabilization to cool soil and prevent insects, elimination of photo-synthetically active radiation to prevent weed growth. The first use of plastic film in agriculture was in response to an effort to make a cheaper version of a glasshouse. In 1948 Professor E.M. Emmert built the first plastic greenhouse, a wooden structure covered with cellulose acetate film. He later switched this to a more effective polyethylene film. After this introduction of plastic film to agriculture, it began being used at a larger scale around the world by the early 1950s to replace paper for mulching vegetables. By 1999 almost 30 million acres worldwide were covered under plastic mulch. What is inspiring is that the majority of this plastic growth is happening in economically poor areas of the world and previously unproductive desert regions. Plastic mulch In this type of mulching a thin plastic film is placed over the ground, poking holes at regular intervals for seeds to be planted in or placing it directly over plants in the beginning stages of growth. The films remain in place for the duration of the cultivation (usually 2-4 months) and usually have a thickness of 12-80?m. The main functions of plastic mulch are to insulate and maintain a consistent temperature and humidity of the soil, preventing evaporation of moisture from the soil, minimization of seedtime and harvest, prevent weed growth, and to prevent erosion. Pigmented or colorless films also can be used. Black films prevent weed growth, but do not transmit light to heat up the soil; clear films transmit light and heat the soil, but promote weed growth. Photo-sensitive films have been developed that are pigmented to prevent weed growth, but still transmit light to heat the soil. These photosensitive films are more costly than either the clear or black polyethylene sheeting. Plastic mulching has proved to reduce irrigation requirements in pepper by 14-29% because of elimination of soil evaporation. Flowering time was also reduced in okra when black plastic mulch was used; the plants reached 50% flowering 3-6 days earlier than un-mulched plots. Plant height in okra was significantly increased with black plastic mulch use compared to those grown in bare soil. Evaporation from soil accounts for 25-50% of water used in irrigation, using plastic mulch prevents much of this evaporation and thus reduces the amount of water needed to grow the crop. This conservation of water makes plastic mulch favorable for farmers in dry and arid climates where water is a limited resource. A green house represents a controlled environmental large structure in which it is possible to stand and work with automated ventilation. In contrast high tunnels are hoop houses, manually ventilated by rolling up the sides. Greenhouse and high tunnel films are usually within the parameters of 80-220?m thick and 20m wide, and have a life span between 6-45 months dependant on several factors. Monolayer polyethylene films are better suited for less extreme environmental conditions, while multilayer covers made of three layers, one EVA19 layer inserted between two low-density polyethylene layers has been shown to have a better performance under harsh conditions. Small tunnel covers are about 1m wide and 1m high, and have a thinner polyethylene film than the large tunnel covers, usually below 80?m. Their lifetime is also shorter than that of the larger versions; they usually have a usable life span of 6-8 months. Use of small tunnels is less popular These are now widely used for making compost using earthworms. The main advantage lies in its strength and its flexibility, portability and ease in installation. It has a inbuilt aeration process to maintain the population of earthworms. Since its introduction in the 1950s, plastic film has been designed and developed to increase produce yield, increase produce size and shorten growth time. Developments in plastic film include durability, optical (ultraviolet, visible, near infrared, and middle infrared) properties, and the anti-drip or anti-fog effect. Recent developments in this area include UV-blocking, NIR-blocking, fluorescent, and ultrathermic films.
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