"We’re hopeful biosolarisation can help farmers return food and agricultural waste back into the system to control pests and improve crop production.”
Researchers based at US-based University of California, Davis, have discovered a new way to help farmers to improve their crop yields and reduce pests by using the sun and agricultural waste. In a statement, the team said that this innovation will help farmers to turn away from chemical fumigants and make farming more productive, profitable and environmentally friendly.
Farmers spend a lot of time and money controlling weeds and other pests, and often have to turn to chemical fumigants to keep the most destructive pests at bay. Farmers also wrestle with what to do with low-value by-products of crop production, such as skin, seeds and hulls from fruit, vegetable and but processing.
Researchers at UC Davis (@UCDavisResearch) said that they are encouraged by early results from collaborative experiments with “biosolarisation”, a process that combines the sun’s heat with soil amendments to manage weeds and other soil-borne pests.
“It looks promising,” said UC Davis food science and technology professor Christopher Simmons. “We still have a lot of work to do, but biosolarisation is showing real potential as a safe, sustainable way to control pests while improving crop quality and yield.”
The agricultural industry is under increasing pressure to establish energy-efficient procedures that do not generate by-products and pressure to move away from chemical-based pesticides. Chemical fumigants are expensive, and many have been identified as carcinogenic by state and federal regulatory agencies, the researchers said.
UC Davis scientists are hoping biosolarisation will be effective and economical for them under a wide range of conditions against a broad number of pests.
The researchers’ innovation is a new take on an old process. Traditionally, many gardeners have used the power of solarisation to kill weeds. This is when they have laid clear plastic tarp over moist soil to trap radiation and heat the soil enough to kill weeds and other soil-borne pets. According to the scientists, it is effective, but can take four to six weeks, which is often tool long for commercial fields to lay fallow.
Simmons and his team are adding organic amendments such as grape and tomato skins or ground nut hulls to the soil before they tarp it, which promotes growth of beneficial bacteria, according to the researchers.
The helpful microorganisms compete with pests and temporarily make the soil more acidic and therefore less hospitable to weeds and other pests.
Together, the soil-heating and microbial activity can reduce the treatment time to days, not weeks.
“And by activating beneficial microbes in the soil, biosolarisation has the potential to improve soil health over the long term,” Simmons said.
Field trials are currently underway to help crops such as lettuce, tomatoes, and melons to grow pest-free.
“We’re making significant ground,” Simmons concluded. “We’re hopeful biosolarisation can help farmers return food and agricultural waste back into the system to control pests and improve crop production.”