May 3, 2021
Be sure to consider plastic mulch to increase profits in vegetable crops

Plastic mulch is a saving grace for many growers as they have look for ways to increase their yields. There are many advantages to using plastic mulch on your farm, and if you’re thinking about adding it to your farm plan, now is a great time to start planning for its use.

Grace Summers

If you’re a beginning grower or seasoned veteran, the latefall is a good time to plan your spring planting and also consider what you need to start plasticulture on your farm. Just like the seed supply companies, many plastic mulch and drip irrigation companies offer year-end or inventory reduction discounts. This is the perfect time to talk with Extension personnel, irrigation specialists and other persons with experience using plastic mulch and drip irrigation.

Plastic mulch has many advantages but as with any good thing there are also disadvantages. The advantages of plastic mulch far outweigh the disadvantages with the most important being that plastic increases yields, which increases profits. Plastic mulch has increased yields as much as five times in crops, such as cantaloupes and cucumbers.

Plasticulture has also shown increased yields in crops, such as tomatoes, squash, peppers and watermelons. Some of the other advantages of plastic mulch include weed control, earlier production, reduced leaching of fertilizer, cleaner produce, irrigation management and direct fertilizer placement through fertigation (injection of fertilizers).

Disadvantages to plastic mulch include the removal and disposal of the plastic, the initial startup costs and the increased need for a high level of management. Thi salso includes the increased potential to stress plants, limit root zones for the plants and damage by rodents and insects underneath the plastic. Overall a grower can expect good results from their investment in a plastic mulch growing system.

A good starting point is figuring out whether you have enough water to run a drip irrigation system under your plastic mulch. Whether you have a well, stream, pond or a municipal (city/county) water supply, there is a drip irrigation set up that can get you the amount of water needed to keep your drip tape hydrating and feeding your crop. Your Extension program assistant and other qualified drip irrigation managers can help you make a checklist for your farm operation based on the crops you want to grow and help you get an idea of your startup costs and operating procedures.

There are many shortcuts available for startup, such as renting/borrowing equipment for laying the plastic mulch versus buying new equipment in the beginning. Also now is a good time to look for used equipment from farm auctions and community sale sites on social media. Sometimes the seller will include leftover supplies with the equipment.

First-time growers should start with a small plot or a few rows before jumping into a large acreage. Growers who do their homework and make a plan at least three months ahead of their farm production are more likely to obtain the results they expect from the plastic mulch.

If you’ve been thinking about adding plastic mulch to your farming operation, then there’s no better time than now to start planning your endeavor. After all, the United Nations has designated 2021 as the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables, and you don’t want to be the only grower who is not prepared. Good luck and let me know whether I can be of help.

– Grace Summers, VSU Small Farm Outreach Program (SFOP) Assistant 

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