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 from proposal:
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.