By Zac B. Sarian
The use of plastic mulch in growing various crops, especially vegetables, has become very popular with farmers these days. This is the use of a plastic sheet installed atop the planting bed. The usual dimensions of those on the market are one meter wide and 400 meters long, currently costing about P900 to P1,000 each.
Toto Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness is the fellow we know who first introduced plastic mulching in the Philippines. He will tell you that the first shipment of 10 rolls that he brought from Taiwan in 1998 took him more than a year to sell. Today, 18 years later, he can sell one container load to just one customer. That’s how much the use of plastic mulch has become popular as a standard practice among successful farmers.
Plastic mulching offers several advantages. First, it prevents the growth of weeds in the plot. During the dry months, the mulch conserves moisture in the soil. And during the rainy months,
it prevents water logging because rain does not enter the planting bed. The plastic mulch also protects some low growing fruits from getting soiled.
In the beginning, installing the plastic mulch required skill. Workers would manually roll out the plastic mulch, putting bamboo pegs along the sides to keep the sheet in place. This system is quite laborious and can take 10 people as long as two days to mulch one hectare.
The old system could be expensive, too, considering the increasing cost of labor. According to Dante Delima of Agri-Tech Integrated Services Company (ATISCO), the cost of manually mulching one hectare, including the cost of rotavating the soil but not including the cost of the plastic materials, could amount to P35,000 per hectare.
Today, the job can be accomplished faster and at a much cheaper cost, thanks to plastic mulching equipment developed by engineers of Agritecno Yazaki Co. based in Calamba City. The placement of the mulch is done by a small tractor that stretches the roll of the mulching material from one end of the field to the other.
The mulch is installed firmly without the need for any pegs to keep the plastic sheet in place. And installation is fast. It takes only four hours to finish installing the plastic mulch on one hectare using the Agritecno Yazaki machine. And it is much cheaper than when manual labor is used.
In the past year, ATISCO has been engaged by commercial vegetable farmers in Batangas to rotavate and mulch their vegetable fields. And the total cost, excluding the cost of plastic materials, is P15,000 per hectare. It means a savings of P20,000 per hectare on the part of the commercial vegetable farmer, according to Delima. He pointed out that when the placement of the mulch is by machine, only two workers are needed. If installation is done manually by several workers, it will take much longer to finish the job and the owner also has to provide meals and snacks to the laborers. That costs money, too.
Very Important Tip
Toto Barcelona has a very important tip for those who mulch their plants with plastic. During rotavation, adequate organic fertilizer should be incorporated in the soil. It could be processed organic fertilizer, vermicast, and the like. Depending on the kind of crop, chemical fertilizer can also be applied before installing the plastic mulch.
So there you are. There is a cheaper and more efficient means of installing your plastic mulch in the field.
This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2016 issue.