New fabrics have the potential to replace greenhouses

Turns out that a nice set of threads isn’t just a good look for you or me – it’s pretty sharp on a cherry tree too.  And for that matter, a peach tree, an olive tree, a grape vine, a tomato plant, a head of lettuce.  All sorts of fruits and vegetables do better “dressed up.”

Granted, it’s not quite the same look.  These threads – are custom-made polymer fabrics, designed especially for all that grows down on the farm.

Take Protecta®, for instance.  That’s a fabric specially designed to protect (naturally) cherry trees, especially from rain, which can ruin the fruit.  Using a high-density polyethylene, a polymer made from the petrochemical ethylene, Protecta® is something like Gore-Tex® for trees:  it breathes, so the trees get air;  it lets through light (even Gore-Tex can’t do that) so the fruit can grow and ripen;  and, it blocks out almost all the rain (the trees DO need some water).  And the monofilament fiber is strong too (so it holds up to years of wind and rain and sun).

(Photo courtesy of Arrigoni)

…that’s what a Protecta®-protected orchard looks like from underneath.

And Arrigoni, the Italian company that turned polymers into protection for cherry trees, has a whole series of farm fabrics for various crops. They started out as a fabric company back in 1936 that specialized in weaving. Most of their fabrics, tape and netting is polyethylene and polypropylene – you guessed it, derived from the base petrochemicals ethylene and propylene. Each different type of fabric, tape or netting uses unique weave patterns to achieve the desired protection. Chemistry and plant haute couture!

They’ve got a fabric cover made from specially woven polyethylene tape that keeps the sun from scorching berry plants, like strawberries (which, incidentally account for about 70 percent of the berries grown worldwide).

(Photo courtesy of Arrigoni)

Worried about your wine grapes?  Arrigoni’s got high-density polyethylene nets that keep hail off the grapes, and protect against too much heat and sunlight.  There’s netting to protect ground crops like cabbage (from birds) and root crops like carrots (from bugs).

(Photo courtesy of Arrigoni)

It all falls under the heading of agrotextiles – which take the idea of a greenhouse, and bring it out into the fields:  polymer nets and sheeting on frames built up over trees – draped over grape vines – spread over ground crops.  Using fabrics woven from polymers (made from petrochemicals) protect plants, while allowing the necessary sunlight and water through.  And because the material is fabric, not glass – it’s possible to set up wherever crops are growing, and take down when it’s not needed, or to move elsewhere.

With more and more people to feed every year, protecting the food we grow is all the more important.  And thanks to the agrotextile industry, polymers are helping our cherry and peach and apple trees stay fruitful (and their crop counterparts on the ground too).