FFAR and NYSTAR Grant Helps RIT Examine Degradable Mulching Films



  • Health-Agriculture Nexus

ROCHESTER (December 8, 2020)– Plastic mulch is commonly used on farms to suppress weeds and conserve water, yet it also harms the environment as it ends up in landfills. The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)  a $779,982 Seeding Solutions grant to develop a sustainable, biodegradable alternative to plastic mulch. Empire State Development’s Division of Science,Technology and Innovation (NYSTAR) is providing $334,355 and RIT is contributing $445,827 in matching funds for a $1.56 million investment.

Plastic mulch is inexpensive and easy to install. However, these films are difficult to re-use and are often disposed of in landfills or incinerators after a single growing season. Biodegradable alternatives are available, but they decompose slowly and do not perform as strongly as plastic mulch. New approaches are needed to provide growers with economically feasible alternatives to plastic mulch that maintain long-term soil ecosystem health.

RIT researchers are developing an alternative to plastic mulch that decomposes faster and can be more easily disposed of on farms. The resulting mulch has the potential to cut costs for farmers while drastically reducing the amount of waste they produce. It could also reduce pesticide use, conserve water and increase crop yield and quality.

Creating more sustainable, profitable farming practices truly starts from the ground-up. Examining alternative man-made mulch options that are biodegradable, and implementing them on farms across the country, will protect long-term soil health and support thriving farms. Sally Rockey, Ph.D.
Executive Director
RIT has a long history of working collaboratively with the farming community to identify methods designed to achieve more sustainable agricultural practices. These investments in RIT by FFAR and ESD/NYSTAR are much appreciated as they will enable RIT researchers to look at innovative new ways to eliminate the harmful environmental impacts of landfilling and incineration when it comes to these plastic films. Ryne Raffaelle
RIT’s vice president for research and associate provost

Agricultural mulch films make up approximately 40 percent of the global market for agricultural plastics. The market was worth approximately $10 billion in 2019 and is projected to be worth $17 billion by 2026. Global food production must continue to expand for the foreseeable future to feed a growing population projected to exceed 10 billion by 2050.

NYSTAR provides an extensive network of resources, experts and programs that are aimed at fostering forward thinking projects like this one that are laser focused on innovation. New York state is leading the way when it comes fostering ideas that will lead to more environmentally friendly and sustainable products that will assist our agriculture partners as well as other industries as we move ahead with our efforts to build back even better. Matt Watson
NYSTAR Senior Vice President and Executive Director

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Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) builds public-private partnerships to fund bold research addressing big food and agriculture challenges. FFAR was established in the 2014 Farm Bill to increase public agriculture research investments, fill knowledge gaps and complement USDA’s research agenda. FFAR’s model matches federal funding from Congress with private funding, delivering a powerful return on taxpayer investment. Through collaboration and partnerships, FFAR advances actionable science benefiting farmers, consumers and the environment.

Connect: @FoundationFAR | @RockTalking

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