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Barriers and bridges to the adoption of biodegradable plastic mulches for US specialty crop production

  • Jessica R. Goldberger (a1), Robert Emmet Jones (a2), Carol A. Miles (a3), Russell W. Wallace (a4) and Debra A. Inglis (a5)...

Commercial farmers have been using polyethylene plastic mulch since the 1950s. Despite the affordability and effectiveness of polyethylene mulch, the disposal process is financially and environmentally costly. Biodegradable plastic mulches, an ecologically sustainable alternative to polyethylene mulch films, were introduced in the 1980s. Biodegradable plastic mulches can be tilled into the soil or composted at the end of the season, reducing the labor and environmental costs associated with plastic removal and disposal. However, research results are mixed as to the effectiveness, degradability and ease-of-use of biodegradable plastic mulches. In 2008–2012, researchers, funded by a USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant, conducted surveys and focus groups in three different agricultural regions of the USA to better understand the barriers and bridges to the adoption of biodegradable plastic mulches for specialty crop production systems. Data on the experiences and views of specialty crop growers, agricultural extension agents, agricultural input suppliers, mulch manufacturers and other stakeholders showed that the major adoption barriers were insufficient knowledge, high cost and unpredictable breakdown. The major bridges to adoption were reduced waste, environmental benefits and interest in further learning. These findings are discussed with reference to the classic innovation diffusion model, specifically work on the innovation–decision process and the attributes of innovations. The study results can be used to guide the activities of those involved in the design, development and promotion of biodegradable plastic mulches for US specialty crop production systems.

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Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems
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