[ASC-media] Growing wheat under plastic good for dry areas

Sarah Brooker sarah at scienceinpublic.com
Thu Sep 28 02:23:24 CEST 2006

(Posted on behalf of Lindsay Bevege)

Growing wheat under plastic
Announced today at the launch of the CRC for Polymers
Launch: 4 pm, 46th Floor, 55 Collins Street, Melbourne 

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

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

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

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

Research partners
.	Monash University 
.	RMIT University 
.	the University of Sydney
.	the University of NSW
.	the University of Wollongong
.	the University of Melbourne
.	Swinburne University of Technology
.	the University of Queensland
.	Queensland University of Technology
.	the University of South Australia
.	the Australian Stem Cell Centre
.	Ciba Specialty Chemicals
.	Pfizer
.	BHP Billiton
.	Moldflow
.	Plantic
.	Integrated Packaging
.	F Cubed
.	Advanced Polymerik 
.	Ceram Polymerik. 
.	Birchip Cropping Group 
.	State of Victoria.

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