Permanent artificial mulch as an alternative to phyto products for row crops

In France, 81% of vineyards are treated with herbicides to protect against weeds, whose water and nutritional consumption compete with the needs of the primary crop[1]. These chemical products pollute groundwater and neighboring spaces as well as being a health risk to farmers, neighbors and animals. "Natural" solutions do exist, such as using hoes or setting out plant-based or artificial mulch. However, the former is time-consuming and can lead to the degradation of vine stocks and irrigation systems, and the latter, while effective, must be renewed every 2 to 3 years and can be costly.

Using a recycled agricultural material, Inovinéa designed a permanent artificial mulch and sought out help from Irstea to analyze the effectiveness of the device, quantify the flow of water and measure its impact on biological life in the soil.  

100% efficient in controlling weeds 

The Symbio tile is a result of a meeting between Inovinéa and Irstea at the SITEVI 2015 trade fair. It comprises several 90cm to 1 meter modules that attach to the foot of the vines, just after planting. It can also incorporate an integrated surface drip irrigation system, thereby protecting the grains from being eaten by rodents. Following the initial tests performed under various climate and water conditions in 2016, the tile was modified to improve its water distribution by recovering rain and irrigation water. This is the most appealing aspect of this innovative product. Not only does it reduce the use of herbicides, it also optimizes water input for plants, in a context of water scarcity.

 

In addition to the known advantages of mulch (stopping any weed regrowth, retaining soil humidity and protecting against soil erosion), the Symbio tile is uniquely able to recover rain, even in small amounts, limiting water loss through evaporation to between 10 and 30%. Furthermore, “and in contrast to other mulches placed directly on the ground, the air that circulated under the cover of the Symbio allows fauna such as snails and worms to thrive, encouraging the reactivation of the biological properties of the soil,” explains Patrick Rosique, project coordinator at Irstea. After six months of experiments on three vines in 2017, researchers noted that the soil under the crops with the mulch was richer, with organic biomass increasing from 0.8% to 1.02%.

And with the Symbio tile, there is no need to change mulch after 2 or 3 years as it is permanent. It is a relevant solution to replace toxic chemical herbicides, reduce the regular use of mechanical tools, and help improve working conditions for farmers. “Weeding represents between 5 and 15 hours of work per hectare per year depending on the geographical region and management method. The Symbio tile removes a step in the cropping process. It provides significant time savings,” explains Céline Gelay-Turtaut, associate manager at Inovinéa. Presented at the Tech&Bio exhibition and at SITEVI 2017, the patented device generated interest from professionals and the first orders have already been fulfilled.

What about profitability? Patrick Rosique is currently evaluating the economic profitability of the mulch in relation to existing solutions according to various production costs and climate conditions, for farmers as well as communities. The results of this socioeconomic study are expected in September 2018. At the same time, Inovinéa is working to reduce the cost of the recycled raw material for the mulch. As the use of herbicides as weed control will be illegal for private gardens in 2019, the start-up is also looking at mulch solutions for market gardens.

For now, discover the product at the International Agriculture Show from February 24 to March 4, 2018, and meet with Patrick Rosique as part of Irstea's talk "Growing innovation together".   

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[1] Source: 2010-Agreste study

[2] Polypropylene