By RURAL nagazine’s environment writer, Caroline Spencer
A pioneering pilot project is under way to test a sample of biodegradable and compostable plant-based agricultural film to replace the plastic that is currently used to cover Jersey Royals and other crops.
If successful, the sight of vast sheets of plastic over the Island’s fields will be replaced with a covering that may look the same but is made from plants, and so the plastic will become a thing of the past.
Although the use of the polyethylene film has demonstrated its economic benefits over the years, such as high yield, earlier harvest and improved water efficiency, there is greater public awareness about plastic’s detrimental effect on the environment.
After many months of research, environmentalist Karen Gray, owner and founder of Green on Purpose, has started a pilot project in May with a local farmer to test the biodegradable and compostable plant-based agricultural film. The project is taking place on a field in Grouville, on the farm of Peter Le Maistre, of Master Farms.
Karen explained: ‘The plastic used in farming is low density and can be used only once or twice. In Jersey, at the end of use only some plastic can be shipped to the UK for recycling. If it gets contaminated with soil, it can’t be reused and then it goes to the incinerator. If plastic is not properly disposed of or recycled, it breaks down into micro-plastics that can contaminate the soil and enter our food chain.
‘The bio-agricultural film we are testing is made from non-genetically modified corn starch and other vegetable oils and is cultivated in Europe. This film is plastic-free and chemical-free and meets international biodegradability standards. This means it won’t leave any toxins or residue once it has broken down. The film can be used for any crops, but the project is focusing on potatoes because the aim is to reduce plastic used in the Island’s agriculture. This bio-agri-film is already being used globally and in the UK on similar crops including courgettes, butternut and potatoes. The crops get grown in the same way, but after harvesting the film can get ploughed back into the ground or composted, so there is no waste.’
Green on Purpose is a Jersey-based company focusing on developing eco-friendly plant-based solutions working with international manufacturers, with the aim to reduce plastic pollution.
The project has been cautiously welcomed by president of the Jersey Farmers Union Peter Le Maistre. ‘With regards to the environmental issues with plastic, this would be very good news,’ he said. ‘There’s a way to go but it’s certainly a journey worth going on and I’ve been impressed by the samples. It’s an important issue and if we can crack it, that would be fantastic.
Peter added, however, that it is quite a technical process to replace the current plastic covering – we need to get a similar width, test its strength and how the crops grow under the new covering and of course if it can withstand our Jersey weather conditions. We will need to determine it can be rolled up and lifted to allow us to harvest. We need to understand how we work with the bio-agri film and if we need to invest in further machinery or change our farming methods.’
Karen said that the plastic-free alternative is a bit more expensive. ‘But if you look at this holistically as a project, we will be reducing plastic in the environment and potentially have fewer costs for disposal and recycling.’
‘I’m excited about the project, as we can reduce plastic pollution in Jersey and it helps the environment. My main aim is to work with growers to find the best solution that works for them. I understand this is a new discovery for Jersey growers. My wish is that the pilot will allow us to test the concept, review the outcomes and performance of the bio-agri film with the aim of finding a solution for Jersey.
‘The next stage would be to get more growers involved. It’s being used across the world. Why not in Jersey?’
*An expanded version of this article can be read in the Summer 2021 issue of RURAL magazine
‘Green on Purpose’
Tel: (0)7551 968 078