Published 16 July 2014 by Stora Enso
Global vegetable production currently depends on plastics: roughly 15 million hectares of agricultural land is covered under black horticultural plastics. Alternatives to plastics cover have been under development for several years. Now Stora Enso and MTT Agrifood Research Finland, with help of VTT and University of Helsinki, have jointly developed a method for making paper-based cover that will offer the markets a real alternative to plastics.
The paper cover, developed and tested at Stora Enso’s Research Centres in Imatra and Mönchengladbach, is environmentally friendly in a number of ways. Not only is it made from renewable raw materials and is biodegradable, it also reduces plastic waste and the need for herbicides. In addition, removing the plastic cover after the growing season is costly and labour-intensive for farmers. Biodegradable cover, on the other hand, can be tilled right into the soil. Biodegradable cover helps improve water economy and prevents the growth of weeds, such as dog grass. Paper makes a better cover than plastic film also in terms of the plants’ capacity to metabolise gas.
“Our fibre-based cover is weather-resistant and durable enough to be laid mechanically using conventional cover-laying machines. We have also succeeded in adjusting the degradation speed of the paper-based cover to suit different kind of annual plants,” explains R&D Manager Raino Kauppinen.
The cover has proved to work best in tunnel cultivation and when used together with horticultural gauze or insect nets.
Farmer a firm believer
The new cover is being used this summer already on several farms. The Holma Farm in Salo took part in the development project as a pilot farm last year, and farmer Esko Holma is pleased with the paper cover. This summer, a remarkable part of farm’s cucumbers are growing on the new cover. As a farmer, Holma recognises the importance of an environmentally friendly production method.
“Plastic cover dirtied with soil cannot be recycled; instead, all of it goes to the landfill and eventually ends up in our waterways and food chain. There is simply no future for plastics. There is, however, a need for bio-cover, and its importance will grow as pesticides and herbicides are increasingly being reduced in the markets,” he points out.