Agricultural Films: Making a Sustainable use of Plastic in the Agriculture Industry

29 Jun 2022

Crop production is a complex process that involves various strategies and techniques to ensure the maximum yield of the crops. With the increasing number of challenges due to environmental changes and lack of natural resources, sufficient crop production requires innovative and advanced practices. 

Agricultural films are one such innovative application of plastics that can significantly increase the production output per hectare besides enhancing crop quality. Owing to the growing need for food, the agricultural industry worldwide has witnessed a shift from traditional to modern farming practices. 

Challenges such as rising global population, diminishing availability of arable land, and rising demands for agricultural products are the key driving factors that make the food producers adopt efficient farming solutions. 

With the use of agricultural films, farmers can efficiently manage crop cultivation and increase crop yield. Farm films have a wide range of applications that include agricultural mulch films, silage stretch films, greenhouse films, drip irrigation pipes, nettings, nonwovens, etc. 

The growing demand for forage to improve livestock production is also expected to significantly impact the demand for the silage film segment in the global agricultural film market.

According to BIS Research’s analysis, the global agricultural films market was valued at $11.38 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach $16.09 billion in 2027, following a CAGR of 5.94% during the forecast period 2022-2027. 

However, the environmental sustainability of the plastics used in the agricultural sector is questionable. This blog is further going to discuss the pros and cons of agricultural mulch films. 

What is an Agricultural Mulch Film?

One of the types of inorganic mulch is plastic mulch which utilizes polyethene film to shield plants from harmful environmental elements. The material became popular in the 1950s among farmers in the U.S. It was initially used in the production of berries and vegetables for commercial purposes.

Now, this method is being used in home gardens too. The polyethylene film is a sheet of black plastic, and it protects crops in various ways, such as insulating the soil, preventing soil erosion, and reducing moisture evaporation.

Pros of Agricultural Mulch Films:

•    Improve soil structure- Using agricultural mulch films prevents the soil from clumping into a compacted mess. It also traps moisture and heat, preventing the loss of plant nutrients. Additionally, the plastic film also prevents animals from walking into the area, further enhancing the structure of the soil.

•    Insulate the soil- Most crops such as vegetables are temperature sensitive and cannot stand extreme cold weather. Hence, the mulch is used to help the soil retain heat during the winter season. Inorganic mulch films warm up the soil up to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. They regulate the soil temperature evenly, insulating temperature-sensitive plants during winters.

•    Effective weed control- Regularly getting rid of the weeds is an essential and exhausting task. Plastic mulch effectively curbs weed growth, and it does so in a large expanse of space. It prevents weeds from getting proper sunlight which is necessary for photosynthesis. Eventually, the weeds die due to the lack of sunlight, which saves the hassle of pulling them manually.

•    Earlier crop growth- Using plastic mulching helps in the early growth of crops as it warms up the soil. The farmers can plant crops of the warm-season up to three weeks earlier than their growing season.

Cons of Agricultural Mulch Films

•    Hazardous to the environment- The non-biodegradable plastic mulch does not break down completely, so it ends up in landfills and pollutes the environment. Plastic materials derived from petroleum sources are usually cheaper to produce, but they are also harmful to the environment.

•    Hard to dispose of- The disposal of plastic mulch is problematic because its removal from fields requires specialized equipment and plastic products are generally hard to dispose. Landfills require extra payment for plastic disposals, which adds more to the overall cost of agricultural mulch films.

•    Excessive heat- While farm films insulate the soil effectively, adversely changing the soil temperature is not advisable for all crops. Some crops are sensitive to the soil temperature, so warming up the soil may have its disadvantages. Using agricultural films is advisable for certain vegetables such as melons, tomatoes, peppers, and other summer crops. 

•    Excessive moisture- Farm films effectively trap moisture and minimize the risk of water evaporation. However, they can also lead to excessive moisture and harm the crops. Farmers usually install soaker hoses or drip irrigation around each plant to limit the moisture. The moist environment around the crops also leads to infestations and diseases.

Solution for Sustainable Use of Agricultural Films

Farm films and nets are essential in agricultural practices because they enhance the nutritional value and yield of the crop, limit insect infestation, and reduce exposure to solar radiation and extreme weather such as hailstorms. The plastic nets adjust the microclimate and curb the impact of harmful elements on the plants. 

The excessive use of agricultural films compromises the natural biodiversity around crops, such as spiders and small insect communities, which has its ecological benefits. 

The sustainability of plastic used in the agriculture industry is analyzed from the perspective of life cycle assessment, that is, the ecological impact of farm film materials/carbon footprint on the production phases and recycling/degradation of properties of plastic in the farm environment. 

Various studies on the sustainability of agricultural films proved that the adoption of biodegradable plastics in agricultural production is a practical solution. 

Non-biodegradable plastics are sourced from fossil fuels, and the production process generates a significant amount of CO2 which is a primary concern of global warming and climate change issues. 

The bio-based plastics produced from renewable feedstocks have a minimum negative impact on the environment. The biodegradable agricultural films are developed from a wide range of materials such as corn starch, rice husk, pectin, and food waste. 

Apart from the low carbon footprint, biodegradable agricultural films are also useful because the surface properties can be customized to have anti-bacterial/anti-microbial properties. Additionally, the mechanical, radiometric, thermal, and optical properties of the material can be tuned according to the biodegradable materials. 


Agricultural films are used to protect crops and plants in open fields or greenhouses throughout their life cycle. They reduce the crop spoilage risk associated with weather, pests, and weeds, and help in improving the overall crop quality. 

A wide range of additives, such as agrochemical resistance, UV absorber, and anti-fogging agent, have been used to improve the lifespan and effectiveness of the agricultural films. 

The development of advanced agricultural films with technologies such as UV-blocking, nanotechnology, and ultra-thermic films has increased the demand for agricultural films across global countries.


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