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Experiments Test Oil-Coated Sand as Alternative to Plastic Film Mulch

Research published in the Vadose Zone Journal, a publication of the Soil Science Society of America, indicated that soybean-oil-coated sand has potential to be developed into an alternative to plastic film mulch. Plastics commonly used in agriculture can cause soil and water-quality problems as they degrade, so researchers at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas are seeking a more sustainable alternative that can help minimize water loss and aid in weed control. In this test, scientists mixed nearly equal volumes of sand and biobased oil, and then heated the mixture to partially polymerize the oil. The resulting product allowed water to pass through, which is important for irrigation, but slowed the process of water wicking from the soil to reduce evaporative losses by as much as 96%. The scientists warn that additional research is needed on the longevity of the material when exposed to the field environment, but preliminary research on this alternative looks promising.