Growers are interested in biodegradable alternatives to petroleum-based polyethylene mulch film (PEM). However, many growers cite limited knowledge about biodegradable mulch films (BDMs) as a significant barrier to adoption. Agronomic field tests of BDMs are often limited temporally or spatially, and the variability of performance results relative to PEM may be contributing to this perceived knowledge gap. Our objective was to use data available in the scientific literature to provide the first quantitative performance benchmark of BDMs against PEM. We extracted data from 66 articles for meta-analysis. Response ratios were calculated for comparison of BDMs relative to black PEM, and differences among categorical groups were determined using 95% bootstrap confidence intervals. Overall, BDMs reduced soil temperature by 4.5% ± 0.8% (±one standard error) compared to PEM, and temperatures were coolest beneath paper-based BDM. Starch-polyester BDM was less effective than PEM for weed control, but paper-based BDM reduced weed density and biomass by 85.7% ± 9.2%. Paper-based BDMs were particularly useful for controlling Cyperus
spp. weeds. Despite differences in soil temperature and weed suppression, crop yields were not different between BDMs and PEM. Future research should focus on reducing costs, adding functional value, and increasing the biodegradability of BDMs.
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