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Spotlight | October 2016

Agro-textiles hold vast scope in India: Gangopadhyay

In 2015-16, technical textiles market reached Rs 92,499 crore, of which the agro-textiles share is Rs 1,191 crore, which reflects only 1 per cent of the total. But for a country like India, which thrives on an agricultural economy, the scope is immense. “We have not even touched the surface of the market, and we have to penetrate deep and explore the potential. SASMIRA, which has been appointed as the Centre of Excellence for agro-textiles, is doing its mite to promote agro-textiles in a big way with the assistance of the Ministry of Textiles,” said UK Gangopadhyay, Executive Director of SASMIRA during an exclusive interview with Samuel Joseph, Editor of The Indian Textile Journal.

Already 30 to 35 companies are aggressively producing agro-textiles for the farming community in India, and the scope is limitless for a country like ours having an agricultural economy, said ED of SASMIRA, in which is located the Centre for Excellence for Agro textiles. “Now three manufacturers have even got the BIS mark for their products. Five years back, there were no international standards even available for agro-textile products. In the last few years, SASMIRA as the CoE has developed at least 10 to 11 standards for the products. BIS 35 is the new stream in the standards and SASMIRA is spearheading it with new standards developments for the products. Most of the products are at nascent stage and only a handful of manufacturers are involved in the production, and hence the difficulty in making standards,” said Gangopadhyay.

Said Gangopadhyay: “For agro-textiles, synthetic fibres are very important like HDPE, PP and polyester, which have longer life. Besides, jute and coir are also used in some cases. The only problem is about their non-biodegradability, which is coming in the way of promoting them in a big way. But today, recyclable and biodegradable materials are being developed.”

Gangopadhyay is never tired of giving instances of boost in agriculture & productivity due to use of agro-textiles: Yield increase was seen at 60 to 100 per cent in shade net applications for vegetables like tomatoes and capsicum. For capsicum, compared to cases where fertilizers have extensively been used, yield with only shade nets and no fertilizers dropped by 25 per cent but average selling price saw a threefold increase.

Similarly with jute mulch mat use increase in yield of curry leaves was seen to be 64 per cent. Anti-hail/bird nets use has shown increase in average selling price for apples was seen as 67 per cent. Mulch mat use for mango cultivation showed a twofold benefit – an increase of yield of 33 per cent and an increase in average selling price of 30 per cent. Mass awareness and capacity building is important and plays a crucial role in the promotion of agro textiles in India via marketing and educational initiatives.

This should involve radio, POS advertising, information dissemination via Kisan call centres, and multi-lingual handbooks. It is also recommended that the benefits of agro textiles is included in the curriculum of graduate courses in agriculture science.

Said Gangopadhyay: “We are implementing two major Government schemes to promote agro-textiles. One is for the North-Eastern region and the other for the rest of the country. It is a Rs 55-crore Scheme and already has been implemented in five states and will be done soon in the remaining three states. The results are so good. We are distributing kits to farmers which includes, crop cover, ground cover, nets etc and each farmer is given Rs 5 lakh as subsidy.”

Synthetics has immense scope in textiles, its potential not fully tapped so far and especially in order to boost the use of synthetics in cotton blends, SASMIRA has been taking initiatives in Tirupur. This being done in collaboration with the Tirupur Exporters Association (TEA) and National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT).

“In our country, the synthetic textiles are costlier than in China and other countries. A lot of efforts are needed to bring the price and availability on par with the international supply chain,” said Gangopadhyay. The ratio of synthetics to cotton is 70:30 in developed countries, but in India it is still skewed in favour of cotton at 50:50.

Gangopadhyay said: “In dyeing, SASMIRA has made a big stride in making a breakthrough in waterless dyeing. The step towards the prototype is almost complete and we are in the process of roping in famous international players to be involved in the project. Liquid CO2 is used for dyeing in supercritical condition. Globally, our knowhow will be the second in this filed. Even some machinery makers have shown some interest. Initially it is to be used with polyester. This technology is generally used in the pharmaceutical sector and now this is being tuned to suit the textile dyeing. ”

Another field SASMIRA presently engaged in is the use of microorganism for colour dyeing. This is a very novel method and promises chemical-free dyeing of textiles in the future, which will go a long way in sustainability and eco-dyeing. “Since this is biotechnology, people involve in biotech has to take it up. Besides, it is commercially viable. This also needs a lot of entrepreneurial talent, and the industry should go for such innovations,” the SASMIRA Executive Director said.

About 21 demonstration centres are under construction, and these are expected to give a big boost to agro-textile use in various States in the country.

Various fibres & textiles for agro-textiles

Agriculture is looked upon as an industry in many parts of the world so as to ensure extensive use of all the land available in the country irrespective of the environmental factors. Controlling the environmental factors offers plants and crop protection for specific target and ensures quality maintenance by elimination of the variations and hazards associated with the weather. It is possible to control temperature and humidity with varying degree of precision, avoid damage from wind and rain, regulate nutrients level to meet plant requirement by using green/poly house techniques. Textile structures are used as controlling factors in green house as well as in fields.

The volumes of special textiles that are manufactured for agricultural applications are increasing day by day not only world-wide but also in India. Also a wide variety of textile products that are designed for general industrial applications are used for agriculture in large quantities. These products include hoses, ropes, conveyor belts, tyres, composites, containers, pots, filters, tarpaulins, sacks, etc. With the apparent exception of protective clothing for insecticides, farmers usually make use of existing fabrics to fulfill their needs.

The most important requirements of textiles for agricultural applications are weather resistance, resistance to microorganism, stable construction and lightweight. Therefore, synthetic fibres are the best choice for agricultural products. The use of textiles in horticulture (fruits, vegetables, nurseries and flowers) is increasing more rapidly than any other area in agriculture. Textiles in different forms are exclusively used for many agricultural end uses it includes knitted, woven, non-woven, extruded sheet, moulded product, ropes, belt, etc. Man-made fibres gives advantages over natural fibres, mainly due to their favourable price/performance ratio, ease of transport as well as setting up, space saving storage and long service life. The use of non-wovens, especially spun bounded fabrics are increasing in agricultural applications more than woven fabrics.

Weaving of protective clothing such as rubber aprons, waterproof outer garments and face mask for a long period is difficult especially in hot climates. Therefore selection of clothing material is extremely important. The main requirements of the materials are:

  • Protection against a range of pesticide formulations, aqueous organic solvent, or oil based
  • Lightweight
  • Low price
  • Readily washable without affecting protective properties
  • Durable
  • Air permeable to maintain wearer comfort
  • Acceptable to wearer

Capillary forces influence the penetration of pesticide through the fabric. Pesticide protective clothing can be made of traditional textiles such as cotton, polyester (or their blend) and treated with repellent finishes. However special woven and non-woven protective materials offer better protection. Protective clothing should not cause heat stress or impair the workers movement The effectiveness of protective clothing is influenced by garment properties (fibre type, yarn and fabric geometry, textile finish), environmental conditions and pesticide characteristics. Fluorocarbon finishes provide better protection against pesticide penetration than non-fluorocarbon-finished fabrics and reduce wicking.

Manmade fibres are preferred for many agricultural end uses than natural fibres mainly due to their favourable price/performance ratio, ease of transport and setting up, space saving storage and long service life. The most important requirements of textiles for agricultural applications are weather resistance and resistance to microorganisms. Therefore, synthetic fibres are the choice of material for designing of agro-textile products. Synthetic fibres like, Polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, nylon are widely used. While in use for outdoor application, agro-textiles are laid over the cultivated areas immediately after sowing or planting, and remains there for at least four to five seasons, for such outdoor application agro-textile has to withstand solar radiation with varying surrounding temperature. Agro-textiles made of synthetic materials are not susceptible to rotting. Synthetic polymers in different forms like, tape yarns, monofilament yarn, and multifilament yarn are commonly in use for manufacturing sunscreen, bird net, windshield, hail protection net, harvesting net, etc.

Polyethylene is resistant to radiation in the visible range; on the other hand, long-term radiation in the ultraviolet range leads to degradation of molecular chains. For this reason polyethylene is modified in the appropriate way. For use as an outdoor material it is treated with the appropriate ultraviolet stabilisers. These are special types of carbon black, which convert the ultraviotet radiation into thermal radiation. This incorporated ultraviolet stabiliser improves product service life.

Narrow polypropylene and polyethylene tapes or fibrillated yarns are extensively applied for knitted and woven agro-textiles. Furthermore, polypropylene tapes / polyethylene or polyester monofilaments are also applied for manufacturing of woven and knitted agro-textiles. Monofilaments are also used, the main advantage of monofilament yarn is that, it presents a smaller working surface to solar radiation because of their circular cross- section and are therefore more light resistant and stable. Polypropylene polymer is extensively used for the manufacturing of spun-bounded non-woven for plant growing applications. High density / low-density polyethylene sheets are also used for the manufacturing of mulch mats.

Natural fibres like wool. jute, cotton, are also used where the bio-degradability of product is essential. A wool fibre, in needle punched non-woven form is used for the manufacturing of mulch mats. Jute is exclusively used as a packing material for agro-products. Natural polymer gives the advantage of biodegradation but, has low service life compared to the synthetics.

Production techniques for agro-textiles Several techniques of fabric production can be used to produce agro-textiles; each method offers specific advantages for particular product.

Weaving, knitting, non-woven, braiding composites etc. can be used to produce variety of agro-textiles.

Knitting

Warp knitting technique is most widely used compared to the weft knitting. Warp knitted protective nets are used in different sectors, which are produced on raschel machines. On the raschel machine the yarn passes through i) Warp beam ii) Knitting elements, on their way to fabric batcher. The yarns are fed in the form of warp beams. The yarns are drawn off these and fed vertically to the working needles via yarn guides. The knitting element converts the yarn in to stitches. After stitch formation the knitted net is removed via a take-off mechanism and batched up or plaited down. Nets for the root balls of plants, nets for protecting grassy areas, nets for protecting crops from birds, nets for protection against hailstones, sun screens, windshields, harvesting nets, packing materials.

Weaving

Woven textile structures are also employed for agro-textile application. Woven agro-textiles are used for ground cover, sunscreen fabric, etc. for horticultural application. Some of the producers of agro-textiles all over the world are manufacturing open-mesh fabric in leno construction from tape and monofilament yarn. Woven products are produced by using weaving machines especially projectile weaving machines.

The range of light to heavy and wide width fabric production is possible with projectile weaving machine. The number of leno shafts, which are equipped with wear reducing plastic lifting heads, determines the maximum machine speed. Nevertheless, it is still possible to attain the weft insertion rate of more than 1000 m/minute. The special tucked-in selvedge is sufficient to meet the subsequent tensile load on the fabric. Batch winders positioned in front of the machine wind the fabric on to roll, from which it can be rolled directly of and over the fruit plantation to be protected. Fabric does not require any finishing.

Non-woven

There are many techniques to produce nonwoven fabrics including needle-punched nonwovens, stitch-bonded nonwovens, thermally-bonded nonwovens, hydro-entangled nonwovens, spun-bonded nonwovens and wet nonwovens. Out of these spun bonding and needle punch techniques are mainly used for the production of non-woven agrotextiles. The spun bonded fabric have a high and constant tensile strength in all directions, also it has very good tearing strength due to the random arrangements of the filaments in the web.

While in needle punching process bonding of the fibrous web is the result of intertwining of the fibres and of the increased interfibre friction caused by the compression of the web by needles. Needled fabric from natural as well man-made fibres are produced on needling machine.

Spun bonding is a technique in which a melt or solution of a fibre forming polymer is extruded through a system of spinnerets in to a high velocity current of air for drawing purpose and the fibres thus formed are deposited on to a high velocity current of air for drawing purpose and the fibres thus formed are deposited on to a perforated continuous belt to form a spun web fabric.

Agro-textile is one of the significant segments of technical textile products, occupying a significant place in terms volume consumption. It may be seen that worldwide the volume is about 10 per cent of the total consumption of technical textiles. However, the agrotech products become significant in the developing countries, where agriculture is the backbone of economy.

Promoting agro textiles in NE region

The North Eastern Region (NER) of India is composed of eight states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The region occupies about 5.6 per cent of the total geographical area of the country. The varied climate, altitude, edaphic conditions, etc. lead to enriched biodiversity and formation of salubrious cultural and social environments in the region. NER can be further subdivided into three geographic regions: plain valley, medium hills and higher elevation, which house vast environment and social diversity.

A large number of horticultural crops are grown in the north eastern region; crops like banana, mango, and a large number of citrus and floral species are native to this region. NER contributed nearly 4 per cent of the country’s horticulture production in 2010-11, and is collectively the leading producer of fruits, supplying nearly 12 per cent of India’s litchis, 47 per cent of pineapple, and nearly 7 per cent of the country’s citrus fruits. NER is also a leading producer of vegetables, like cabbage, cauliflower, and sweet potato, in India. Among the states of the NER, in terms of fruit production and area, Assam occupies maximum followed by Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. Similarly in vegetable production Assam has occupied maximum in production and covered area under the crop.

Given the prominence of agricultural activities in the North Eastern Region, and the significant contribution of this region to the national agriculture sector, this region will greatly benefit from the application of agro textile technology. While agricultural activities are mostly dependent on natural conditions such as sunlight, water, climate (wind, hail, humidity), external factors (birds, weeds, insects, etc.) and post-harvest handling of produce, absence of control factors expose the region’s agricultural sector to risks of unsatisfactory yield, marred quality of produce, damages to the produce, regional limitation on cultivation, and seasonal limitation on cultivation.

Agro textiles are used in farming, animal husbandry, sericulture and horticulture to control the hazardous influences of environmental and climactic factors on crop production and cattle breeding, regulate nutrient level intake of plants, silk worm rearing and assist in process and postharvest operations.

Agro textiles have been demonstrated to be successful world over in not only protecting the crops from any external factors, but also in improving agricultural yield. Researchers in developed countries have proven the advantages of agro textiles in improving per hectare productivity and quality of produce, specifically for horticulture and floriculture crops, through numerous studies and onsite trials. Field trials and pilot studies have demonstrated the following benefits of usage of agro textiles.

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