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Biodegradable plastic mulch could help environment, increase yield

U.S. agriculture uses about a billion pounds of plastic annually, and much of that material ends up in landfills, rivers, oceans and even our food, beverages and bodies. Jessica Goldberger’s aim is to help farmers grow crops more sustainably and curb global dependence on wasteful, perpetual plastic.

Tractor in field laying down biodegradable mulch.

Researchers lay mulch at Boxx Berry Farm in Ferndale, where WSU researchers are studying biodegradable mulches.

Goldberger, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, and past president of the Agriculture, Food and Human Values Society, recently gave that group’s 2018 presidential address to agrifood scholars. Leveraging the opportunity, she provided new ideas for future research on plastics, and showcased discoveries on how farmers could be encouraged to use biodegradable plastic mulch.

Her address is published in the December 2018 issue of the journal Agriculture and Human Values.

Biodegradable plastic mulches offer the potential to control weeds, retain moisture, and boost farm yields, but many farmers are hesitant to adopt them because of concerns over uncertainty, risk and aesthetics.

Goldberger holds published paper on biodegradable mulch acceptance.Jessica Goldberger, researcher in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, shares her team’s research on biodegradable mulch acceptance.

Goldberger leads the Technology Adoption Working Group — one of seven teams collaborating in a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Specialty Crop Research Initiative project — that focuses on performance and adoptability of biodegradable plastic mulches.

Her group — a team of scientists in sociology, horticulture, economics, anthropology and environmental psychology — is working to understand farmer attitudes and acceptance of biodegradable mulches. The team’s work highlights the need for improved products and new research on:

  • Standards.
  • Best practices.
  • Ways to better attract organic farmers.
  • The presence of microplastics in agricultural ecosystems.

“All of us, as human beings living in the Plastic Age, should take stock of the role of plastics in our day‑to‑day lives and consider changes to our relationship with plastics,” she said.

At WSU, Goldberger works at the intersection of agriculture, sociology and food systems. She explores sources of agricultural knowledge, the spread of agricultural innovations, and the ways agricultural beliefs, choices and practices affect rural quality of life, food security, sustainability and the environment.

Source:, by Seth Truscott


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