Agro-textiles: Requirements and applications
What are the fibres, yarns and fabric structures used for the agro-tech and the requirements expected from textile material used in agro-industry? Surya R, Vijaya Prabhu and JC Sakthivel provide some answers with reviews.
Technical textiles are high performance, special textile materials and products that are manufactured primarily for their technical and performance properties rather than their aesthetic or decorative properties. Technical textiles can be divided into twelve categories, depending on their end-uses like medical and hygiene textiles, industrial products and components, agriculture, horticulture and fishing, home textiles, clothing components, packaging and containment, construction – building and roofing, geotextiles in civil engineering, sport and leisure, protective and safety clothing or textiles, ecological protection textiles and transport textiles.
Out of the 12 areas of technical textiles, agro-textiles is one of the growing areas of technical textiles. Over the last century, the global population has multiplied to 9 billion. Food demand is expected to increase anywhere between 59 per cent and 98 per cent by 2050.To meet the world’s food and health requirements ,it is vital to obtain better quality and quantity yield. The need for increase crop production is done either by increasing the amount of agricultural land to grow crops or by enhancing productivity on existing agricultural lands through fertiliser and irrigation and adopting new methods like precision farming. Agro-textiles enhances the same; it helps lessening the burdens labour force, easy maintenance, promotes better yield through providing protection, stability and better environment for the yield crop.
Agro-textile is the application of textile materials in agricultural activities. The application areas of agro-textile are classified as under crop production, horticulture, floriculture and forestry, animal husbandry and aquaculture and agro-engineering related applications. Textiles in different forms like knitted, woven, non-woven, extruded sheet, moulded product, ropes, belt, etc. are used for agro-textile product making. Products like shade nets, harvesting nets, nets for crop protection, mulch mats, textiles for food packaging, fishing nets, tarpaulins and their likes are few of the popular agro-textiles.
Other technical textiles that aid agriculture indirectly are geotextiles (soil covers), protective textiles (agriculture work wear), and industrial textiles (belts, hoses and filters). The global agro-textile market size was valued at $8.46 billion in 2016. The usage of agro-tech products includes agriculture, aquaculture, floriculture, horticulture, and animal husbandry. Agricultural fabrics help to increase the total productivity and also to improve the quality of crops. The growth of agro-tech product mainly depends on the need to increase production of agricultural products in order to fulfill the daily requirement/demand of growing population. The demand for products such as mulch mats, insect net, shade nets, fish nets, etc. depends on the technical and performance properties of these products and also on the awareness and acceptance of these products by farming community.
Property requirements for agro textiles
Agro-tech possesses various desirable properties such as protection from insects, light (ultra violet rays) or hail, lightweight, biodegradability, resistance to microorganisms, and high potential to retain water. Weather resistance – it must work effectively in cold as well as hot climatic conditions; resistance to microorganisms – it must resistant to microorganism to protect the living being; stable construction – the construction must be such that it must be stable for any application; lightweight – the weight of the fabric should be such that it will bare by the plant; withstand solar radiation, withstand ultraviolet radiations, High potential to retain water and protection property.
As far as arable farming, floriculture and horticulture are concerned, since these occupy the major of agriculture, the role of an ideal agro-textile is completed by increasing the crop productivity, this is obtained through fulfilling these expectations, which are as follows: To provide farmers protection from the injuries, adverse weather and hazardous chemicals used for pesticides and insecticides. For the crops, to provide good nutritious environment for the crop; Must prevent the soil from drying out; Decrease the requirement of fertilisers, pesticides and water; Give the crop necessary physical support; Provide easy of identification of yield and protect it from birds, pests and diseases; For the animal husbandry, soft texture for animals to feel comfortable. As far as agro-tech is concerned, reaching the layman farmers is through products with easy availability, low cost and good durability and good performance.
Raw material requirement for making agro-textiles
The high usages of synthetic materials over the natural fibres are due to the following reasons: Favorable cost to performance ratio; Durability, Easy transportation and Less space requirement for storage. Apart from these reasons, the primary requirements for any agricultural products are resistance to external environment (weather resistant) and resistance to microorganisms. Because of these requirement, synthetic are preferred to the natural fibres. Most widely used synthetic fibres are polyester, polypropylene, polyethylene, nylon, etc., in the form of monofilament yarn or multifilament yarn for applications such as shade nets, bird nets, windshield, hail protection, etc., Natural fibres are also used in some areas where biodegradability plays a major role. Examples of natural fibres for agricultural applications are wool, jute, cotton, etc.
Materials used in agro-textiles
Synthetic fibres: Polyolefin fibres are widely used and nylon, polyester fibres are also used for agricultural applications. Jute, coir, sisal, flax, wool and hemp fibres are some of the examples of natural fibres. Synthetic fibres are widely used in agro-tech sector because of their durability, more strength and other required properties for agricultural applications. Natural fibres used in agricultural products provide dual functions such as providing the specific purpose and after that it will become a natural fertilisers to the soil. Monofilament or multifilament yarns are mainly used to construct the shade nets, fishing nets, bird protection nets, etc., Knitted fabrics were used for applications such as fishing nets, bird protection nets, etc., and the plain woven fabrics from monofilament or multifilament yarn are used in shade nets, wind protection, etc.
Applications of agro-textiles
Applications of agriculture textiles include general applications, arable farming, animal husbandry, aquaculture, floriculture and horticulture. General applications like cow shed, cow covering cloths made out of jute; Protection for tractor drivers against severe conditions and injuries.The worker is exposed to cold open air, warm and moist area, eg: a cow shed, a farmer is regularly subjected to considerable variations in climatic conditions during his working day. Cold protection by giving clothing heating elements that can be connected to the electrical circuit of the vehicle. But this method of protection however has the disadvantage that the natural temperature-control mechanism of the body is dulled.
Mud control: To improve muddy paths and trails. E.g: cattle or light traffic, non-woven fabrics used as an underlay, covered by broken stones, chalk grit and coarse gravel; drainage: linear drainage with or without the use of pipes, non-woven fabrics are used and are folded with an overlap to include the pipe or a mass of grit. , Fruits or cereals, both on the soil and as tarpaulins for covering them during storage in the open or during transportation on lorries or trucks, High strength, puncture resistance, incombustible, low weight, water-repellent, microbes resistance, manageable, even under extreme conditions, Water hoses, wind screens, cordage, etc.
Arable farming applications like jute sacks: Seed potatoes, etc when exported uses boxes or jute bags, PP woven bags: not eco-friendly, tendency to slip, easily rubbed over cement floor, Cordage: Sisal is used as a raw material in paper mill and less polluting than PP, Glass reinforced plastics, windscreens, nets, etc., animal husbandry applications like silos: manure removed from cowshed with the aid of some form of mechanical equipment, can be transferred into large flexible silos, identification belts: cows carry around their necks a belt giving the necessary identification-number. Food necessary for automated feed system.
The Netherlands has two million cows equipped with these belts. Nylon polyester fibre straps are used instead of leather to avoid cracking sun and rain, udder cloth: This fabric is used to chafe the udder before it is connected to the milking machine. Instead of hard cloth, soft cloth with brush is preferred, udder nets: some cows possess heavy udder that they need a support by nets to held strings tied at the back. This prevents treading and kicking the teats; sow belts and filtering material: Used in automated milking system or manually while pouring in the bucket.
Aquaculture covers farming of fish, aquatic plants, algae, crustaceans, and other aquatic organisms for food and medicinal purposes. Here textile materials are used in the form of fishing nets, anti fouling nets, etc., Fishing nets are made from knitted fabrics used for marine and inland fishing by fisherman, fishing trawlers and boats. Average life of fishing nets is two to three years. Some users use it after repair. The characteristics and specifications of fishnets vary based on the method adopted for fishing. Ropes and lines used for pulling are made up of fibre lengths, twisted or braided together. They provide good tensile strength. Twine, braided fishing line, multifilament fishing line, monofilament fishing line, fishing line, manila rope, abaca rope are few examples.
Floriculture and horticulture applications like nets: Nets are used in the growing of fruit to keep the birds , especially for the expensive fruits, such as cherries, morellos and currants. Leno woven nets from polythene monofilament yarns (4 x 8 mm) are applied in southern and central Europe for protection against hailstorms. Nonwoven mats: fibres and PVA are used to cultivation of potted plants. The pots are put on the mat, which is placed over a wet sand bed, Movable screens for glass houses: Screens made of non-woven or woven polyester fiber fabric are used extensively in glass-houses. Applying screens inside the glass house protects the plants against extremes of temperature (hot and cold). Darkness or light necessary can be provided e.g: Chrysanthemums.
Polyester is preferred over nylon. These are used to protect young plants against cold and night frost or against virus infection. Perforated plastic sheets-cheaper and good in function. Flower bulbs: Bulbs are mechanically sown in furrows on nets or splits plastics sheet and after flowering, can be in the same way by lifting the net as a whole. Advantages: less labour-intensive and not a single bulb is left in the field and can separate different varieties. Mushrooms are grown on a mixed bed of horse manure and compost. In the past shoveling was used, but now the bed is made out of nylon fabric. This method has the added advantage that the vertical distance between the beds can be diminished and more beds accommodated in the same area.
Cucumber flowers: In open field cultivation, cucumber flowers are readily fertilised by bees. This is the result in a fruit with a thick bottom end and a thinner top end and containing a large number of seeds. By covering the plant with a nylon screen, the flowers are protected and good straight fruits are obtained. Cordage and strings: Used in great quantities in split fibre or plastics raffia. Monofilament threads are also employed. Root lumps: The roots of shrubs are packed for transport in a loosely woven fabric of jute and acrylic fibre to keep the lump together and prevent drying-out. Used only once since it is put only when there is planting. This is the only instance agriculture where rot-resistance should not be too high: the jute yarn will disappear and make room for thick roots.
As agro-textile products are mainly manufactured from the synthetic fibres, there is a need for intense research on replacing those synthetic fibres with the natural fibre and many research works are going on to replace the synthetic fibres with natural fibres and fibre wastes in agro-tech products. In this article, the authors have demonstrated different types of agro-textile products classified under the specialised fields of its end use. It is necessary when a new agro-textile product is designed, the requirements mentioned are vital to be considered.
In future there will be a demand for agro-textile products as there is a need for increased productivity and better quality because of increasing population and better hygienic habits. Engineered farming has got a hype globally due to the same reason and products enhancing the same like these agro-textile nonwovens would certainly add up to the crop productivity, quality enhancement and value addition of the yield crop.
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Surya R and Vijaya Prabhu are PG scholars, and J C Sakthivel, Assistant Professor, Department of Textile Technology, PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore.