By Jamie Swedberg
There is arguably no component of agriculture as valuable as water. It is a crucial input into soil-based horticultural systems. It is the stuff of life for both plants and animals. In some specialties, such as hydroponics and aquaculture, it is actually the growth medium. Water is also a component of many agricultural by-products, such as animal wastes. So it’s no surprise that the manipulation and conservation of water is one critical aspect of agriculture in which fabrics can be gainfully employed.
End-product manufacturers use woven polypropylene fabric from Belton Industries Inc. to make dewatering tubes. Fabric tubes and bags are well known in anti-pollution applications, where water is pumped through them in an effort to remove contaminants such as PCBs, but the tubes are also useful for solidifying agricultural wastes. The watery waste that accumulates in a hog pond, for example, can be pumped through tubes woven at exactly the right density to trap the solid portion of the sludge. Then the dewatered waste can be taken to a landfill or a fertilizer plant.
Fabric can also be used to protect valuable water resources. Gale Pacific’s Bill Layer says that in Australia, his company’s knitted HDPE horticultural fabrics are often used to cover small lakes used for irrigation and aquaculture. Australia is widely affected by water shortages and even in the best of times, evaporation is a serious concern. The fabric covers help to mitigate the loss. So far this use of horticultural fabric has not caught on in the United States, but with regional droughts becoming more severe, it may become more popular in the coming years.