In-Service Training for Biodegradable Mulch

Progress report for WPDP19-05

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $74,580.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2022
Host Institution Award ID: G132-20-W7504
Grant Recipient: WSU Mount Vernon NWREC
Region: Western
State: Washington
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Carol Miles
WSU Mount Vernon NWREC
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Project Information

Abstract:

Reducing plastic waste in agriculture will increase environmental sustainability, and biodegradable plastic mulch (BDM) can be a sustainable technology as long as BDM provides benefits equal to polyethylene (PE) mulch, reduces labor costs for removal and disposal, completely biodegrades, and causes no harm to soil ecology or the environment. We will develop an in-service training program to disseminate research findings from projects funded by USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) at Washington State University for assessment of BDM in annual and perennial vegetable and fruit crop production. Training will include: reading product labels to determine if mulch is biodegradable; impact of BDM on crop production; evaluating BDM weed control during the crop season; costs of BDM; assessing soil for BDM fragments post soil-incorporation; composting BDM; and impact of BDM use on soil health and quality. The training program will include a day-long workshop in year 1, and the development of a web-based training curriculum in year 2. We will disseminate the training through email list serves, Extension in-service training events and professional conferences. The workshop in year 1 will include classroom lectures and discussion combined with hands-on field and laboratory demonstrations of laying BDM as it differs slightly from laying PE mulch, tilling BDM into the soil, and sampling the soil to assess the amount of plastic fragments remaining. All of this information will be video recorded and combined with recordings we gathered during our SCRI and WSDA grant projects. We will catalog all recordings and select and edit for incorporation into the web-based asynchronous curriculum. The curriculum will include PowerPoint presentations, videos and handouts that trainers can use for their own presentations. All training participants will be required to take a pre- and post-training survey to assess knowledge gain and information gaps.

Project Objectives:

Increase awareness and knowledge of sustainability issues regarding mulch use for crop production, specifically: (1) disposal of PE mulch; (2) BDM ingredients, how they are derived, and how to use this information to assess potential for biodegradation and compostability; (3) impact of using BDMs on annual and perennial vegetable and fruit crops; (4) breakdown of BDMs in soil and compost: and (4) sampling to assess BDMs in soil after till-down.

 

Year 1 – Develop and deliver a hands-on in-service training program to agricultural professionals for the use and assessment of BDM for annual and perennial vegetable and fruit crop production. This will include a day-long workshop at WSU NWREC in Mount Vernon, where we have tested BDM for the past 4 years in a field experiment. Video record workshop sessions and combine with recordings we gathered during our SCRI and WSDA grant projects. Catalog all recordings and select and edit for incorporation into the web-based curriculum. All training participants will be required to take a pre- and post-training survey to assess knowledge gain, information gaps, and potential changes in practices with producer constituents.

 

Year 2 – Refine training materials, fill information gaps identified in the hands-on training, and develop the asynchronous curriculum, which will include PowerPoint presentations, videos and handouts that participant-trainers can use for their own presentations. Post the curriculum on-line so it is accessible throughout the western region. Disseminate the training through email list serves, Extension in-service training events and professional conferences throughout the western region. Surveys of participants pre- and post-training will be used to identify any remaining information gaps, and education materials will be developed to fill these gaps. We will include an introduction to the training in our WSU undergraduate and graduate lectures, and we will submit a peer-reviewed article to the Journal of Extension.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Chris Benedict (Educator)
  • Dr. Lisa DeVetter, Carol Miles (WSU TRIAL) (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Lisa DeVetter, Carol Miles (WSU TRIAL) (Educator and Researcher)
  • Dr. Markus Flury (Researcher)
  • Dr. Suzette Galinato (Researcher)
  • Dr. Hang Liu (Researcher)
  • Dr. Carol Miles, Carol Miles (WSU TRIAL) (Researcher)

Education

Educational approach:

The following educational approaches were used in the project:

  • Developed training materials like PowerPoint slides and presenter notes
  • Developed lecture slides for high school, undergraduate and graduate courses
  • Developed factsheets and videos
  • Developed website and posted all the educational materials online
  • Conducted professional development workshops
  • Presentations
  • On-farm demonstration

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Soil-biodegradable Plastic Mulch (BDM) Professional Training
Objective:

Provide agricultural professionals the current science-based information on soil-biodegradable plastic mulch and a resource guide for reference information

Description:

PowerPoint slides and presenter notes were developed on different aspects of BDM and used for workshops. Teaching and/or research faculty, professionals from different agencies, industries, government offices, and educational organizations were invited to attend the training program. The training program covered the following topics:

  1. What is soil-biodegradable plastic mulch?
  2. Use of polyethylene mulch in strawberry production
  3. Use of soil-biodegradable mulch in crop production
  4. Applying soil-biodegradable mulch
  5. Weed control
  6. Deterioration, degradation, and tilling soil-biodegradable mulch
  7. Soil sampling for visible plastic fragments post tillage
  8. Impact of soil-biodegradable mulch on soil health and quality
  9. Economics of soil-biodegradable mulch use
  10. Sociological perceptions of soil-biodegradable mulch
Outcomes and impacts:

We have conducted three professional development workshops for agriculture professionals: in Watsonville, CA (28 participants), northeastern US (58 participants), and for members of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) (30 participants). All participants have found the workshop to be informative. In Watsonville, the participants’ overall level of knowledge on BDM increased 41% due to the training program (N = 28, n = 28 where N is the total no. of participants and n is the total no. of respondents) (Fig. 1). In the northeastern US webinar, 27% of participants felt they learned a lot from the training session and 41% learned some new information (N = 58, n = 38) (Fig. 2). In the ASHS webinar, 48% of participants learned a lot from the training session and 48% of participants learned some new information (N = 30, n = 21) (Fig. 2).

We observed significant changes in awareness and knowledge among Extension and agricultural agency personnel regarding the sustainability issues of using PE mulch and BDM for crop production. Specifically, personnel had increased understanding of: (1) impact of BDM on crop yield and quality; (2) petroleum- and biobased feedstocks that are used to make BDMs, and how the origin of these feedstocks are not the factor determining biodegradability of the BDM (e.g., just because a product is biobased does not mean it is biodegradable); (3) the use of GMOs in the fermentation process used to produce biobased polymers; (4) naturally occurring soil microorganisms and environmental conditions that impact the rate of BDM biodegradation; (5) pathways of BDM biodegradation, from film to fragment to micro-particle to nano-particle to carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and microbial biomass; (6) how to sample soil for mulch fragments (PE or BDM); (7) how to calculate the on-farm costs associated with BDM use; and (8) how to distinguish a BDM from a product that will not biodegrade (e.g., oxo- and photodegradable plastic). With this knowledge, personnel indicated in the survey that they were prepared to provide technical assistance for producers. The participants also indicated that they are likely to use the information and resources learned at the workshop.

Training curriculum on website
Objective:

Disseminate BDM knowledge to a large number of people

Description:

The training curriculum that includes PowerPoint presentations, presenter notes, lecture slides, factsheets, and videos is posted on our website https://smallfruits.wsu.edu/plastic-mulches/ so that it is available to everyone. Anyone can use the materials on our website for free and conduct BDM workshops on their own.

Outcomes and impacts:

Students, extension agents and other agricultural professionals have found the website very informative and helpful. For example, a group of 13 undergraduate students from University of California, Santa Cruz who are working on developing a biodegradable polymer and learning more about biodegradables in the context of specialty crop and organic production systems referred to our website and commented “We found your website to be without a doubt the most useful and user-friendly resource in navigating the field of biodegradable mulches”. The MS student recruited at Washington State University for this project is now responsible for managing website content.

On-farm demonstration in California
Objective:

To test the soil sampling method in the field

Description:

A group of colleagues conducted soil sampling at three different locations (Sand Hill Farm, Plant Sciences and Triple M Farm) with different soil types in Watsonville, CA on 23 June, 2020 using the protocol and video that we developed for soil sampling, to assess the amount of visible plastic fragments in the field and to test the protocol.

Outcomes and impacts:

We found that the protocol we developed was effective in sandy loam soil at Plant Sciences but not in the sandy soil at Sand Hill Farm nor the heavy soil at Triple M Farm. We will develop new methodologies for soil sampling in sandy and heavy soils. The soil sampling that was carried out recovered totally impermeable film (TIF) green, pellet, clear plastic film, fiber black, and fragments of irrigation tube. This indicates the sampling methodology works in general and the group who carried out the sampling was very surprised to recover this amount of plastic from a farm field.

Educational & Outreach Activities

32 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 On-farm demonstrations
5 Webinars / talks / presentations
2 Workshop field days
1 Other educational activities: Poster presentation in ASHS conference 2020

Participation Summary:

43 Extension
23 Researchers
4 Nonprofit
8 Agency
8 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
6 Farmers/ranchers
212 Others

Learning Outcomes

320 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
116 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

We developed a BDM training curriculum that includes 10 PowerPoint slides with accompanying presenter notes, 3 factsheets, 3 videos, and 3 lecture slide sets. We posted the training curriculum on our website https://smallfruits.wsu.edu/plastic-mulches/teaching-materials/. Students, extension agents and other agricultural professionals have found the website very informative and helpful. For example, a group of 13 undergraduate students from University of California, Santa Cruz who are working on developing a biodegradable polymer and learning more about biodegradables in the context of specialty crop and organic production systems referred to our website and commented “We found your website to be without a doubt the most useful and user-friendly resource in navigating the field of biodegradable mulches”. The WSU MS student on this project is now responsible for managing website content. We have conducted three professional development workshops for agriculture professionals: in Watsonville, CA (28 participants), northeastern US (58 participants), and for members of the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) (30 participants). All participants have found the workshop to be informative. In Watsonville, the participants’ overall level of knowledge on BDM increased 41% due to the training program (N = 28, n = 28 where N is the total no. of participants and n is the total no. of respondents). In the northeastern US webinar, 27% of participants felt they learned a lot from the training session and 41% learned some new information (N = 58, n = 38). In the ASHS webinar, 48% of participants learned a lot from the training session and 48% of participants learned some new information (N = 30, n = 21). Extension and agricultural agency personnel gained awareness and knowledge regarding the sustainability issues of using PE mulch and BDM for crop production. Specifically, personnel had increased understanding of: (1) impact of BDM on crop yield and quality; (2) petroleum- and biobased feedstocks that are used to make BDMs, and how the origin of these feedstocks are not the factor determining biodegradability of the BDM (e.g., just because a product is biobased does not mean it is biodegradable); (3) the use of GMOs in the fermentation process used to produce biobased polymers; (4) naturally occurring soil microorganisms and environmental conditions that impact the rate of BDM biodegradation; (5) pathways of BDM biodegradation, from film to fragment to micro-particle to nano-particle to carbon dioxide (CO2), water (H2O) and microbial biomass; (6) how to sample soil for mulch fragments (PE or BDM); (7) how to calculate the on-farm costs associated with BDM use; and (8) how to distinguish a BDM from a product that will not biodegrade (e.g., oxo- and photodegradable plastic). Survey participants indicated they are likely to use the information and resources learned at the workshop and are prepared to provide technical assistance for producers. Our project has contributed significantly to filling the knowledge gap regarding BDM.  

Recommendations:

Due to COVID-19 we were unable to schedule our training workshops as originally planned and we had to cancel the events that we scheduled for 2020. We would like to request a no-cost extension for this grant project so that we can complete our scope of work.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.