Agriculturalists worldwide need to capitalize on the increasingly sustainable
plastics being developed for farming, industry officials agreed at a conference
in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
This in light of the escalating food supply needs
of an exploding population.
The experts spoke at the International CIPA
Conference 2012: Plasticulture for a Green Planet, organized by CIPA, the
International Committee for Plastics in Agriculture, the 19th such conference
held every three years in a different country. With representatives from more
than 54 countries, the conference took place on the grounds of the AgriTech
Exhibition – the 18th International Agriculture Exhibition and Conference, going
on from Tuesday through Thursday at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
our tiny country, most of which is desert where each drop of water counts and
every little piece of fertile land matters, we have succeeded to develop a
modern and profitable agriculture,” Agriculture Minister Orit Noked
This success, she stressed, is in large part due to the added
efficiency gained by the use of plastics in irrigation systems, in greenhouses,
in netting and other systems. Through such technologies, Israel has been able to
“make the desert bloom” and transform it from an arid no-man’s land to a
“vegetable basket,” according to Noked.
Israel’s plastic industry began
to boom in kibbutzim during the 1960s, and combined with advanced agricultural
technologies allowed the country to become a world leader in desert crop
cultivation, explained Itzhak Esquira, president of CIPA for the past three
years and a member of Israel’s Plants Production and Marketing
“Our vision in recent years in protected agriculture is to produce
year-round high quality produce based on sustainability without involving any
external or fossil energy,” Esquira said.
On June 14, the world will
converge on Rio De Janeiro to define what exactly sustainable development means
going forward, a decision that will apply to agriculture and to many other
sectors, said Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, director-general of the United Nations
Industrial Development Organization.
“It is obvious that we cannot
continue to produce and consume products the way we have been for the past 150
years,” Yumkella said.
Last October, the global population reached 7
billion, and in another 40 years, it will jump an additional 2.5 billion. In
only 20 years, about 3 billion people will move into middle class, demanding
more food, and by 2020 the world will need to increase its food production by
50%, according to Yumkella.
“We face a global challenge of meeting the
food needs of this expanding population,” he said.
While many important
plastic technologies for farming already exist in much of the world, these
innovations need to reach developing countries as well, particularly farms in
Africa, where the dearth of plastic packaging often leads to crops rotting in
the field, according to Yumkella. In those same countries, there are often
inadequate processes for recycling, so the plastics that are in use end up
remaining on the ground – “everywhere,” he added.
innovations that have proven successful domestically and as exports include
plastic nets to protect crops against the infiltration of harmful,
disease-causing insects, as well as micropackaging plastic bags for preservation
of fruits and vegetables, Noked said.
“All our fields are irrigated
through water flowing in plastic pipes,” she said.
plastic nets can be used to divert pests, such such as white flies and aphids,
away from entering greenhouses, according to Dr. David Ben-Yakir, from the
Agricultural Research Center at the Volcani Center.
“Optically, we can
manipulate the insect and minimize their entry into the greenhouse,” Ben-Yakir
said, noting that yellow often seems to be attractive to the
Plastics also help conserve water, both in drip irrigation and by
coating reservoirs to retain rainwater, explained Dr. Ana Dotan, president of
the Israel Society for Polymers and Plastics.
“With the use of plastics,
fruits and vegetables can be grown whatever the season,” she said. “Thanks to
the use of plastics in agriculture, water can be saved and plants can be planted
even in desert areas.”
Other important plasticulture innovations
worldwide include greenhouse covers that block near-infrared rays and so reduce
the temperature in greenhouses, according to Prof. Juan I. Montero, of the
Institut de Recerca i Tecnologia Agroalimentària in Spain.
instrumental have been anti-drip films, which cause condensation to form a film
on the greenhouse covers, rather than dripping down, and allow for the recovery
of condensation water when placed on an incline, he said.
plastics are critical in the development of agriculture, they must be recycled
properly, and when recycling is not possible, biodegradable plastics may
increasingly be an option, said Dotan, who was recently part of a team at
Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan that developed a single-
season biodegradable irrigation system with the Netafim company.
biodegradable films, as well as performing mechanical recycling to produce
plastic pelts, agriculturalists will be able to prevent much of their plastic
waste from accumulating, Montero said. Meanwhile, burning polyurethane in a
controlled way can prove a useful energy source, with a very high heat
“Greenhouse production, if properly managed, is not a highly
polluting process,” he said.