By: Ananya Sharma
Agriculture and textiles have been closely intertwined for generations, with agricultural products often used to produce textile materials. In recent times, the use of agro textiles for crop protection has significantly increased, with various applications developed to shield crops from adverse weather conditions, pests, UV radiation, solar radiation, weeds, and other factors.
Polypropylene nonwoven materials have the ability to alter climate conditions and can be placed directly over the plants without requiring any additional support. UV-resistant polyethylene fibers are typically used to create sunscreen, insect meshes, weed control fabric, and greenhouse covers. The use of thermal screens in greenhouse agro textiles can reduce energy consumption for heating by up to 40%. Additionally, agro textiles can improve color uniformity and prevent staining of fruits and vegetables, enhancing their perceived value.
Research has shown that agro textiles can be more effective than fertilizers. For example, the application of shade netting has been found to increase tomato and capsicum yields by 60-100%. In the case of capsicum, the use of shade netting resulted in yields comparable to those achieved with extensive fertilizer use, but with a 25% reduction in fertilizer application. Similarly, the use of jute mulch mats led to a 64% increase in the yield of curry leaves, while the use of mulch mats for mango cultivation resulted in a 33% increase in yield and a 30% increase in average selling price. Overall, agro textiles offer a promising approach to enhancing crop yields and improving the economic value of agricultural products
Agro textiles are also an ideal choice for the production of packing materials for agricultural products. Packing nets for fruits and packing sacks for agricultural use are widely used, reducing the need for harmful products such as polythene. Indeed, the use of agro textiles is a promising step towards reducing contamination of agricultural products by plastic and polythene, which can remain in the human body for extended periods of time, posing serious health risks. Therefore, shifting to life-saving substances such as agro textiles is an urgent need for ensuring sustainable agriculture and protecting human health.
The utilization of agro textiles in agriculture has been gaining popularity in recent years, despite debates over the allocation of cultivable land for textile-related crop growth instead of food production. It should be noted that these textiles possess impressive properties such as biodegradability, non-toxicity, weather-resistance, and high moisture retention potential. With their versatile weaving, non-woven, and knitted capabilities, agro textiles have numerous applications in the agricultural industry, including the production of packing materials for fruits and agricultural products, which can reduce the need for harmful substances like polythene. The contamination of agricultural products by plastic and polythene can pose severe health risks and persist in the human body for extended periods, making the transition to life-saving substances like agro textiles a critical concern.
Agro textiles play a vital role in mitigating the harmful effects of herbicides and pesticides on human health and the environment. These substances can have long-term and multigenerational impacts, making the use of agro textiles an essential aspect of sustainable agriculture. With minimal shading and excellent air and light permeability, agro textiles are ideal for fruit covers that protect crops from adverse weather conditions such as hail and frost.
The Ministry of Textiles, Government of India has launched a scheme to promote the use of Agro-Textiles in the North Eastern Region. The scheme has two components – creating awareness and setting up demonstration centres by SASMIRA, CoE, Agro, and distribution of Agro-Textile Kits to beneficiaries. SASMIRA has already established four demonstration centres in the region. The Agro-Textile Kit, which includes a Shade Net House and other components, will be provided to beneficiaries at a 90% subsidy. The remaining 10% cost will be borne by the beneficiary, up to a maximum of Rs. 5 lakh. However, to avail the kit, farmers must undergo training on the use of Agro-Textile for cultivating horticultural crops, which will also be provided by SASMIRA.
The agro-textile market is currently dominated by polyolefins or petrochemical-based materials. However, a shift towards plant-based agro-textiles is imperative for the sustainable future of agriculture. Despite their vast potential benefits, the growth of agro textiles in India is relatively low compared to other technical textiles. Nevertheless, the applications of agro textiles in the agricultural sector are endless, making them a valuable resource for crop protection and soil conservation.
Agro textiles are biodegradable and non-toxic, making them an ideal solution for pest and weed resistance, UV and solar radiation protection, and prevention of soil erosion. They also create an optimal micro-climate for crops, protecting them from adverse weather conditions. Packing nets made from monofilament nets are becoming increasingly popular for crop protection against birds, while agro textiles are effective in the production of packing materials for agricultural products.
In addition, research is ongoing to explore the potential use of nanofinished cotton fabrics for flower packaging and nanofinished cotton threads for plant supports. There is also potential for the use of nanofertilizers and nanopesticides for floriculture. Agro textiles can be a perfect alternative to frequently used harmful items like polybags and plastic sheets.
The agro-textile market in India is estimated to reach US$14.3 billion in 2025, with a CAGR of 5.5% from 2017 to 2025. The Ministry of Textiles has cleared 20 strategic research projects worth Rs 74 crore, including six projects related to agro-textiles. Non-conventional plant fibers obtained from corn stover, bagasse, banana, wheat straw, rice straw, and pineapple leaves fibers have the potential to improve crop yields.
In conclusion, agro textiles have a crucial role to play in the future of agriculture and the textile industry. With the right investment and support, they can help revolutionize the agricultural sector and provide sustainable solutions to the challenges facing our planet today. Choosing agro-based textiles over petroleum-based materials is the need of the hour for the preservation of our environment. Agro textiles are not just a consumer demand but a demand of nature .