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.
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.
We reviewed our USDA-SCRI and WSDA SCBG biodegradable mulch projects research publications and transcribed key information into extension publications. We planned a “Train the Trainers” workshop with collaborators in Watsonville, California and then developed an outline for a training curriculum along with identification of information. We began a catalog of photos and video recordings and selected several for incorporation into the training curriculum.
We recruited one MS graduate student to assist in the development of all educational materials and events. This student will become an expert in professional development regarding biodegradable mulch.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
To provide agricultural professionals the current science-based information on biodegradable plastic mulch and a resource guide for reference information
Professionals from different agencies, industries, government offices, and educational organizations will be invited to attend the training program. The training program will cover the following topics:
- What is biodegradable plastic mulch?
- Use of polyethylene mulch in strawberry production
- Use of biodegradable mulch in crop production
- Applying biodegradable mulch
- Pest control
- Deterioration, degradation, and tilling biodegradable mulch
- Soil sampling for visible plastic fragments post tillage
- Economics of biodegradable mulch use
- Sociological perceptions of biodegradable mulch
The workshop will include classroom lecture and discussion combined with hands-on field and laboratory demonstrations of laying BDM, assessing BDM deterioration, tilling BDM into the soil, and sampling the soil to assess the amount of plastic fragments remaining.
We expect significant changes in awareness and knowledge among Extension and agricultural agency personnel in the western region regarding the sustainability issues of using PE mulch and BDM for crop production. Specifically, personnel will have 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 will be prepared to provide technical assistance for producers, leading to increased substitution of PE mulch with BDM, resulting in reduced plastic waste from farms throughout western region.
Surveys of workshop and training participants pre- and post-training will provide evidence of changed knowledge and awareness of BDM, and participants’ intentions to utilize this information in their programs.