[ASC-media] Growing wheat under plastic

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Mon Oct 2 03:52:04 CEST 2006


(Posted on behalf of Lindsay Bevege)

Growing wheat under plastic
Announced at the launch of the CRC for Polymers

Early results from field trials on wheat crops show that a special
plastic film that goes over crops during planting accelerates plant
growth and encourages vigorous, high-quality crops despite dry field
conditions. The discovery was announced today at the launch of a new
Polymer Cooperative Research Centre. 

Other projects for the Centre include: technology to manufacture blood
products from cells; polymer-based materials that, on exposure to fire,
transform into ceramic fire barriers; low-cost transformable polymer
solar cells; and computer modelling software that allows better design
of moulded components.

The low-cost plastic covering, applied to rows of crops using a fully
automated system, provides a temporary greenhouse environment that warms
the soil and retains the moisture present during planting. The plastic
eventually degrades in the sunlight.

The field trials were conducted in conjunction with the Birchip Cropping
Group in Birchip, Victoria, a dry area with marginal rainfall. The
trials have shown that, compared to the control crop, wheat that
germinated under the film had higher protein content and lower moisture
content in seeds. Wheat with these two key qualities commands premium
prices in the market.

The research on the films is being conducted in the Cooperative Research
Centre for Polymers (CRC-P) and research partners include: Queensland
University of Technology, the University of Queensland, Swinburne
University of Technology, and Integrated Packaging Pty Ltd, the
commercial partner. Today, the CRC-P announced that further tests are
being conducted on different films developed using innovative polymer
technology.  

The technology relies on the plastic film being degraded by sunlight so
that plants can penetrate the weakening film at a critical time in their
growing cycle without mechanical damage, and before they suffer heat
stress.  

Agricultural plastic films are already commercially used overseas on
maize crops, but the CRC-P scientists are developing technology that
controls and adjusts the rate of film degradation to suit the growing
pattern of Australian crops such as wheat, barley, and cotton. 

Dr Ian Dagley, CEO of the CRC-P, said the research team was looking at
improving the system by controlling degradation through the use of novel
additives in films. "The team has so far blown 45 films and is
consolidating their understanding of the process and the variables that
affect film performance and the interaction between plant and film," he
said.

According to Dr Dagley, the scientists are also determining the critical
time in the plant's growing cycle when they need to be able to break
through the film, so that they can develop a film that will weaken at
precisely the right time for a given crop. 

"The aim is to produce a film that is completely broken down by harvest
time," he said.

The research team is currently running four trials. In South Australia
and NSW, the film is being tested on wheat.  In Victoria, it is being
tested on wheat and lentils, and in Queensland, on maize and sorghum. A
fifth trial is being planned for use on cotton in Narrabri, NSW.  

Research into agricultural plastic films is one in the suite of research
being undertaken by the CRC-P which received $32 million from the latest
round of funding from the Commonwealth's Cooperative Research Centres
Programme.  

With funding from the CRC Programme and its research partners, the new
CRC-P is investing more than $100 million over 7 years on research aimed
at developing advanced and specialised materials for economic activities
in which Australia has the highest competitive advantage:  agriculture,
biomedical engineering, mining, energy, and more broadly, the
manufacturing sector.

Media contacts:  
Dr Ian Dagley, (03) 9518 0400, 0418 360 495, dagley at crcp.com.au  
Emilia Tagaza 0431 974 011, etagaza at businessoutlook.com.au


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