PASA Conference, Organic biodegradable mulch

I’ll be presenting three workshops at the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Farming for the Future Conference February 7-10, 2018. The event is at State College, PA, and will likely draw in 1500-2000 people.

Storage Vegetables for Off-Season Sales Friday 12.50 – 2.10 pm

Grow crops you can sell during the winter, while allowing yourself some down-time and reprieve from outdoor work. Choose suitable crops, schedules and storage conditions. Understand your weather and basic crop protection. This workshop will provide tables of cold-hardiness and details of four ranges of cold-hardy crops (warm and cool weather crops to harvest and store before very cold weather; crops to keep alive in the ground further into winter, then store; hardy crops to store in the ground and harvest during the winter, and overwinter crops for early spring harvests before the main season). It includes tables of storage conditions needed for different vegetables and suggestions of suitable storage methods, with and without electricity.

Crimson clover cover crop.
Photo McCune Porter

Cover Crops for Vegetable Growers Saturday 8.30 – 9.50 am

Using cover crops to feed and improve the soil, smother weeds, and prevent soil erosion. Selecting cover crops to make use of opportunities year round: early spring, summer, fall and going into winter. Fitting cover crops into the schedule of vegetable production while maintaining a healthy crop rotation.

Misty November morning in the hoophouse.
Photo Pam Dawling

Fall and Winter Hoophouses Saturday Feb 10 12.50-2.10pm

How to grow varied and plentiful winter greens for cooking and salads; turnips, radishes and scallions. How to get continuous harvests and maximize use of this valuable space, including transplanting indoors from outdoors in the fall. The workshop includes tips to help minimize unhealthy levels of nitrates in cold weather with short days. Late winter uses can include growing bare-root transplants for planting outdoors in spring.

There will be handouts for each workshop and book-signing on Friday at 5.15pm.

The Farming for the Future Conference is PASA’s featured event, held annually in February. We seek to gather a diverse audience from the sustainable food system including farmers, educators, processors, advocates, and eaters – please join us! Each year we feature:

  • Over 100 speakers representing the best from the sustainable agriculture field and our membership.

  • A variety of sustainable farming and food system programming including full-day tracks, half-day sessions, and 80-minute workshops across the fours days of the event.

  • Over 90 Trade Show vendors representing the broad diversity and deep expertise of our community.

  • Opportunities to network and socialize over receptions and meals that feature regionally-source ingredients.

  • An ag-themed Future Farmers program for kids (K to Grade 8).

  • Special events like music, movie, yoga, knitting, and more!


I’ll return to Pennsylvania in September for the Mother Earth News Fair – see my Events page for more on that.

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Organic Biodegradable Mulch

The Fruit Growers News announced

“Minnesota-based Organix Solutions has received a certification of its product line of black soil biodegradable agricultural mulch film. The OK biodegradable SOIL Certification from Vinçotte International verifies that the product, called Organix A.G. Film, will completely biodegrade in the soil without adversely affecting the environment according to international standards, according to a release from Organix.”

These mulch films are made with ecovio, a compostable biopolymer by BASF – a material that completely biodegrades in a commercially reasonable period. Microbes in the soil  break down the film into CO2, biomass and water. You can  to order online from the Organix link.

This is big news for certified USDA Organic growers, if they can get their certifier to agree with Vinçotte International and certify this material. Previously available biodegradable mulch films have not been accepted as Organic. Here’s a brief history:

In 2014 biodegradable biobased mulch films were added to the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances permitting their use in organic production as long as they met certain criteria, and were not made from genetically modified organisms. The criteria are:

  1. Meeting the compostability specifications of one of the following standards: ASTM D6400, ASTM D6868, EN 13432, EN 14995, or ISO 17088;
  2. Demonstrating at least 90% biodegradation absolute or relative to microcrystalline cellulose in less than two years, in soil, according to one of the following test methods: ISO 17556 or ASTM D5988; and
  3. Being biobased with content determined using ASTM D6866

In January 2015, National Organic Program (NOP) Memo 15-1 further clarified that these mulches cannot include any prohibited ingredients. OMRI researched the availability of these mulches  and found no product on the market in 2015 that met the standard.

Bioplastic mulches are made of several polymers, some derived from renewable vegetable biomass and others from biodegradable fossil fuel materials (petroleum products).

As explained by Johanna Mirenda, OMRI Technical Director in The Dirt on Biodegradable Plastics in 2015:

For example, some currently available biodegradable mulches are made primarily with polylactic acid, an ingredient derived from corn starch, tapioca root, or sugarcane, but they also contain feedstocks derived from petroleum chemicals. More details about the makeup and manufacturing process are available in OMRI’s Report on Biodegradable Biobased Mulch Films, authored for the USDA.

Read the full Final Rule here.

And here’s a thoughtful, constructive article from Broadfork Farm in Canada after Canada’s Organic Certification Scheme decertified biodegradable mulches in 2016.

I’ve written in the past about our use of biodegradable mulch and how we roll it out by hand, with a team of people.

Rolling biodegradable plastic mulch by hand
Photo Wren Vile

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