New degradable plastic film that is less than the width of a human hair is helping to regenerate native trees and establish high-value crops.
The new technology, developed by a team in partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Polymers, with The University of Queensland’s Professor Peter Halley as co-project leader, won the Excellence in Innovation Award at the CRC Association gala dinner last night (8 March).
Professor Halley said the ultra-thin films were applied to the crop at seeding, trapping heat and moisture close to the ground to create a greenhouse effect.
“As the plants grow, the plastic film breaks down in the sunlight, removing any environmental hazards,” Professor Halley said.
“This is a great benefit to crop growers, as they will be able to plant earlier, improve the germination of their crops, use less water and potentially produce higher yields.
“Licensed by Australian company Integrated Packaging, the new plastic film technology is already in use in Ireland for the production of maize.”
Integrated Packaging CEO John Cerini said his company joined the CRC for Polymers seeking to improve the technology of the film to make it more sustainable for a wider range of crops.
“Our collaboration with the CRC led us to a new range of films that give greater control over the timing of a film’s degradation both above and below ground,” Mr Cerini said.
The CRC is also developing a computer-based support tool to help farmers decide when to use the films for a given crop by providing information on the best time to plant, the grade of film product to use, the likely yield and the potential costs and benefits.
The technology is being adapted to Australian conditions and farming practices and to more than a dozen commercially important crops in a series of field trials run across four states.
Professor Halley said the trials demonstrated that the films resulted in more uniform germination, early growth and establishment.
“Also, many crop specific benefits were seen, such as a wider growing season, the opportunity for a price premium for getting to market early, the ability to grow higher value crops in cooler regions, more efficient use of available water, and increased yields,” he said.
CRC for Polymers CEO Dr Ian Dagley said the new technology was the result of more than a decade of research in the CRC between Integrated Packaging, UQ, QUT, CSIRO, ANSTO, Greening Australia, Birchip Cropping and Rice Research Australia.
“It demonstrates the great value of the CRC Programme which assists companies to develop new products that result from collaborative multidisciplinary research with Australian universities and research organisations.”
The CRCP team at UQ consisted of Professor Halley, Associate Professor Rowan Truss, Dr Bronwyn Laycock, Dr Greg Cash, Ms Emilie Gauthier, Mr Michael Murphy, Mr John Milne, Dr Paul Luckman, Dr Jorja Cork, Dr Sherri Hsu and Dr Tim Nicholson, with strong involvement from researchers at QUT, the Queensland Government and Queensland farmers.
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