Dr. Sibel Irmak, Research Associate Professor of Biological Systems Engineering, and Samuel Wortman, Assistant Professor of Agronomy & Horticulture will lead the project in collaboration with Loren Isom, Assistant Director, Industrial Agricultural Products Center. Dr. Irmak and her colleagues will develop biodegradable mulch film formulations based on blends of various renewable raw materials for application to specialty crops such as, tomatoes and peppers in greenhouse and agricultural field trials. Which will evaluate protection from common weed infestations. Nebraska Department of Agriculture awarded the project under the USDA – Specialty Crop Block Grant Program to develop biodegradable mulch films that meet required properties for agricultural applications using low cost, abundant and non-toxic raw materials.
Mulch films with preferred properties can provide important benefits such as warmer soil temperatures to enhance crop germination, increased soil moisture, reduced insect and weed abundance, and reduced pesticide use. Degradable materials and their end-products should be environmentally safe and precautions should be taken to prevent them from getting into surface and/or groundwater resources, which can negatively impact the quality of irrigation and drinking water resources. Biodegradable mulch films made from natural sources can help to reduce this hazard. In this project, protein-based mulch films will be studied as potential mulch films that can be applied in agricultural production fields. These films can be developed to release nitrogen into the soil during the degradation process, potentially reducing inorganic fertilizer demand in specialty crops.