In spite of the innumerable steps taken by Government at grass root level, the present scenario of agriculture field is characterized by shrinking of per capita water availability at a remarkable level as well as low sectoral availability of water for agricultural purposes. The problem is more pronounced due to inefficient management of water at farm level especially in areas of moderate or low rainfall. The proper utilization of monsoon water is missing to a large extent which results in depletion of water resources and low agricultural productivity. On the other hand, population is continuously increasing and there is greater stress on agricultural crops to fulfill the requirement. Under such circumstances, agriculture and horticulture fields have realized the essential need to opt for various technologies which can not only increase the agricultural productivity but also help in prevention of various natural resources like soil and water. Agro textiles are one of those techniques gaining popularity in crop and water management as well as climate control.
Agro textiles can be defined as textiles prepared by woven, knitted or non woven technique especially to be used for controlling and preserving environment and resources for various applications like agriculture, forestry, horticulture or landscape gardening. The usage of these textiles is designed to reduce the cost of production and improve the quality of produce. This will also help the farmers generate higher yield while using less resources whether natural resources like water and soil or manmade like weed killers and pesticides. Lesser usage of these chemicals will not only help in bringing the input cost down but also help to prevent environment pollution and the harmful effect of extensive usage of pesticides on soil and human health can be minimized. Agro textiles transmits light in a controlled manner and helps in maintaining the soil humidity and its temperature, prevents infestation by pests, protects crops against cold, hail storms and untimely rain thus reducing the loss chances for the farmer.
- Desirable characteristics of Agro Textiles:
For a textile to be suitable for use in agriculture and horticulture it should possess certain inherent characteristics. The first and foremost is the resistance to micro organisms prevalent in soil as the textile is bound to come in contact with soil. Its susceptibility to attack by micro organisms will make it unsuitable for use as agro textile. It should also be able to withstand solar radiation and ultra violet radiation without any degradation. To prevent any side effects of wide usage of agro textiles, they should also be bio degradable. These textiles should have extensive protection properties and durability as well as a very high potential to retain water. The textiles should have good tensile strength which can be a major factor in its durability and life. These should also have good abrasion resistance properties to withstand the wear and tear of usage and climate conditions. Man made fibers are generally preferred for manufacturing of Agro Textiles because of their low cost, better durability, ease of transport and storage, although bio degradability is an issue of concern with manmade textiles. Manmade fibers like polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon and polyester are the commonly used material for making agro textiles. Various agro textiles like sun screen, wind shield, hail protection and harvesting net etc. are successfully produced using monofilament and multi filament yarns made from synthetic polymers. Utilization of non woven technique to create spun bonded fabric is extremely common for manufacturing polypropylene sheets for plant growing applications. Some natural fibers like jute and cotton are also used, where it is essential for the material to be bio degradable. However, the service life and cost of these textiles is more in comparison to synthetic substitutes. Jute is the most commonly used fiber to produce textiles for packing of agro products. Mulch mats are produced using recycled woolen fibers by using needle punched non woven technique.
- Agro textiles classification:
Apart from manufacturing technique employed in production like weaving, knitting or non woven technique, agro textiles can also be broadly classified into various categories on the basis of their application. Hence we have different agro textiles for crop production, for horticulture, forestry and floriculture field and agro textiles for aqua culture and animal husbandry applications. Agro textiles are also available for agro engineering related applications.
- Agro textiles for crop production
These textiles are used for different aspects of crop production depending on the crop requirement and geographical location of the agriculture field. Products like sunscreen are made by warp knitted nets to protect the fields from extensive solar radiation. Knitted mono filament nets are used for production of bird protection nets to protect the crop from damage caused by birds and pests. Plant nets made of polyolefin fibers are used to prevent the decaying of fruits by keeping them away from damp soil. Polypropylene is used to produce ground cover textiles for long term weed control, moisture conservation and landscaping purpose. Wind protection nets are used to control the effect of high winds and keep out air borne sand and salt in areas close to the sea. If young plants need to be transported, root ball nets are used so that the root system is prevented from damage during transportation and replanting. To prevent insect attacks on ornamental plants and vegetables, woven and knitted polyethylene monofilament meshes are used to keep pollinating insects inside and harmful insects outside. Needle punched non woven textiles and plastic sheets are used as Mulch mats to cover the soil and help in suppressing weed growth. They can be both bio degradable and non bio degradable. Knitted Monofilament nets are used to create windbreak fences and shading screens to protect plants against the harmful effects of blustery weather and frosts. Cold and frost control fabric can be easily laid out directly on the plants for plant protection. Harvesting nets are used for certain fruits like Jamun where loss due to falling of fruit on ground is considerable. Apart from these, net fabrics are widely used for packing and transportation of farm produce.
- Agro textiles for horticulture, floriculture and forestry
Net fabric structures, non woven materials, screens for glass and poly houses, mixed bed for mushroom cultivation and cordage and strings are some of the application of agro textiles in the field of Horticulture and Floriculture. Woven and non woven polyester fabrics having light resistant properties are used in the inner lining of green house to prevent the plants from the effect of extreme cold and hot conditions and in the outer covering of green houses to prevent exposure to excessive sun radiation.
- Agro textiles for animal husbandry and aqua culture.
In the field of animal husbandry, nylon and polyester belts are used for identification of cows and buffaloes. In the case of large udders making it uncomfortable for the animal, textile nets are used for holding purpose. Non woven fabrics are also used for filtering of milk in automatic milking machines. Textiles as fish nets have been used since ancient times. Nylon as mono or multi filament is used to create warp knitted and knotless nets by the usage of which, fishing is found to be more cost and energy efficient.
In water management field, agro textiles are used for drip irrigation and sprinkler irrigation system, rain water harvesting and lining of farm, ponds or water reservoirs with plastics film. In a normal pond of water, drop in depth of water via seepage and evaporation is from 10.36 to 90.65 cm per day depending on the type of soil. The film used for lining is low density polyethylene which is tough and has multiple layers, has wide width to cover the water reservoir and is made by co- extrusion blown film technique. The thickness of the film is usually 100 – 250 microns.
A number of studies have revealed that unless some concrete steps are taken, there is a probability of 10- 40 per cent loss in crop production in our country due to anticipated rise in temperature by year 2060. Hence agro textile sector is gearing hard to improve the efficiency of crop production by using suitable agro textiles so that better crop yield can be achieved year after year. It is expected that the next green revolution will be aided by agro textile technology and the advances made in this field are remarkable to say the least. Progress is being made in this field like usage of polymer fiber balls as a substitute to soil, knitted net hose for water transportation, super absorbent polymer fiber mats for water management in horticulture applications, use of water retention nets coated with super absorbent polymer resins and composites of hemp or polypropylene for reducing soil pollutants are some of the recent developments in agro textiles which have the potential to improve crop efficiency and cost effectiveness of farming.
By Dr Prerna Kapila
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana