A new pre-emergent degradable agricultural film is currently in trial mode in the United States for the corn, soybean and industrial hemp industries. OneCrop was initially developed for the cotton industry in Australia.

Comprised of low-density polymers, non-genetically modified starch and oxo-degradable compounds, the film is laid over the top of seedbeds as they are sown using a patent-pending high-speed precision planter with an integrated film layer, the Norseman Techni-Plant. The fully biodegradable film is designed to degrade after 90 days and be broken down entirely by the time crops are harvested. The film has slits at 3-inch intervals directly above the seed location and is held in place by a layer of soil on each side of the row.

Based in Adelaide, South Australia, the company was founded in 2014 by former Irishmen David McGrath and Chris Thomas. McGrath began talks with the CSIRO, the Australian Government agency responsible for scientific research, about developing film technology to improve the efficiency of the cotton industry in 2012.

“I soon realized that cotton took advantage of the microclimate, germinated and locked in moisture, which is incredibly sensitive here in Australia,” he said. “Once we had proven the concept it was pretty clear that what we were developing could represent a step-change in a $3 billion market here in Australia. “What we’re doing is putting a little greenhouse directly on top of the seedbed.”

Last year, cotton trials in the United States and Australia resulted in yield increases of 47% on the Texas Panhandle and 50% in Queensland (Australia). McGrath said OneCrop also reduced water usage, increased daytime soil temperatures and reduced the amount of seed required because of higher germination rates. McGrath said the cost of the system was offset by the savings in water and the increases in yield “by a considerable margin.”

“What we’re doing is tricking that seed into thinking it is already in a much warmer time of the year and that is where a lot of the benefit of the crop is being realized,” McGrath said. “Moisture is a massive part of the story. First of all, it forms condensation underneath the film, so it’s like it’s permanently raining on top of the seedbed.”

OneCrop and Norseman Machinery has shipped two of the machines to the U.S. to be used on commercial crops across ten states including Texas, Louisiana, Illinois, Kentucky, and California. The first 2018 rollout took place in January at a sweet corn farm in California with the bulk of the cotton planting done in April.

“We wanted to have a number of seasons just where we knew that we could operate without any issues and the best way was for us to do it ourselves, but now we are at the point where we have had actual growers in the driver’s seat, and they’ve been operating our machinery in a kind of ‘try before you buy’ scenario,” McGrath said. “Now the machinery and the system from end-to-end is commercially available for anybody who wants to buy machinery or film for contract or for their own properties. It’s ready.”

McGrath further commented, “We know who our customers are in Australia. The numbers we haven’t been able to tie down is the size of the opportunity in the United States. We’re in ten states this year, so if we ended up having ten machines sold into every one of those states in the upcoming season, then that might be interesting.”

Visit onecrop.com for more info.

OneCrop was recently awarded the $100,000 Future Food Asia Award for its technology. It will also launch a fundraising campaign in a bid to raise a further $1.8 million to build its production facility, and help fast-track the commercial rollout.