The photo is sourced from arrsagro.ru
Polymers produced via petroleum reforming are already used in agriculture: for instance, they are employed to produce mulch film – polyethylene bands that accelerate soil heating and prevent weed growth. Another example is nonwoven fabrics consisting of filaments and fibres bonded together by thermal treatment instead of weaving methods. Nonwoven fabrics are used in greenhouses and hothouses, as well as on cultivation areas and lawns.
Polymers are also used to create substrates for seed sprouting. The polymers best suited for this purpose are biodegradable ones, such as polylactide (PLA, lactic acid-based polymer made from sugarcane and corn) and poly-3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), the product of bacteria and seaweed energy storage. “It is essential for material in the soil to be freely destroyed by microorganisms without damaging the environment,” Viktor Cherdyntsev, head of the Laboratory of Functional Polymer Materials of NUST MISIS, is quoted as saying by the Russian Science Foundation.
The study participants ran a comparison of seed sprouting speed in a cultivar of common winter wheat (Yubileynaya 100) on a polymer substrate and a non-polymer one. In addition to polylactide and poly-3-hydroxybutyrate, the scientists used superfine fibres from natural and nitrile butadiene rubber, which are used in biomedicine, nanosensors and filtration systems, in order to create the substrate. The experiment has shown that the wheat sprouts growing on polymer substrates are on average 1 centimetre taller than those growing on standard substrates. In areas under cover, polymer materials decay in 4–6 months under the impact of water, serving as a source of carbon dioxide and heat for wheat seeds.
As a result, the polymer material becomes not only a substrate but also a breeding ground, accelerating seed growth. This is why biodegradable polymers can significantly aid agricultural producers working in the regions where the warm season lasts for less than six months.