Biodegradable film yielding good results for corn crops

DeSable See View Farm, is trying something new with its spring planting this year, using a piece of equipment that can plant corn, apply a fertilizer, a herbicide and a thin layer of protective film over seedlings, all at the same time.

'The average farmer can do this'

Farmers Colin MacNevin and Randy Drenth have used the biodegradable film at both of their farms. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

A number of P.E.I. farms are trying something new with spring planting this year to boost their crops in an environmentally-friendly way.

The seeds were sown beneath a thin protective film that's made of starch from vegetables like potatoes or corn.

"It gets the corn growing faster, so it will mature faster — less risks to those frosts in the fall," said Randy Drenth, who started using the technique at his Summerfield farm three years ago.

The biodegradable film, which keeps seedlings in a warm, greenhouse-like environment for up to six weeks, was developed by a company in Ireland more than 20 years ago.

"We're always looking at new technologies and new ideas and new ways of doing it," said Drenth. "Get the corn growing as vigorously as possible so that that corn stays healthy and thriving."

In addition to protecting seeds from cold temperatures, it also helps prevent the soil from drying out. After about six weeks, the film degrades in the sunlight, breaking down and absorbing into the soil.

The biodegradable film helps create a greenhouse effect keeping corn seedlings in a warm, humid environment. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

Drenth was so impressed with the results, he told the owners of another family-run farm. DeSable See View Farm planted last week and the owners believe their crop is already ahead of schedule. 

The bio film costs about $180 an acre, but farmers hope it achieves a 30 per cent higher yield. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

'Doing our best'

Judy MacNevin, of DeSable See View Farm, said the bio film has been garnering a lot of attention from curious onlookers. "I got a couple of phone calls from neighbours saying what's with the plastic in your field?" she said. 

She turned to social media to let people know it was a biodegradable product, not regular plastic.

"The next morning I took a picture, posted it and explained yes, this is corn and the fact that this is a biodegradable film. I really wanted people to understand that, especially commercial farmers, we're doing our best," she said.

Corn has already started to appear just one week after seeds were planted at DeSable See View Farm. (Tom Steepe/CBC )

It isn't cheap, though. The bio film costs an extra $180 per acre.

Drenth said there are always risks in trying new systems, but sometimes the potential gains outweigh those risks.

"We are getting about an extra tonne to the acre, so that'd be about an extra 25 percent in yield, and it matures faster," he said.

For Colin MacNevin, Judy's son, the system just makes sense and he's hoping to convince other Island farmers to give the technology a try.

"Judging by the many phone calls I received in the past week yes ... the average farmer can do this," he said.

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