Plastic mulch in combination with drip irrigation is widely used for vegetable production in Florida (Locascio, 2005). The benefits associated with this plasticulture system in comparison with the traditional bare ground seepage irrigation include earlier and higher marketable yield, reduced weed pressure, higher irrigation efficiency, protection of fertilizer/enhanced fertilizer efficiency, and the ability to double or triple crop on the same plastic (Lamont, 1993). Although the success of plasticulture for several high-value horticultural crops has been documented (Borosic et al., 1998; Shrivastava et al., 1994; Tiwari et al., 1998), commercial cabbage production in Florida still relies on a bare ground system with seepage irrigation, primarily due to this system’s low cost of operation and the ease of management (Locascio, 2005). The utilization of plasticulture for cabbage production is a possible alternative to the traditional bare ground with seepage irrigation, potentially allowing for reduction in water withdrawals and pollution runoff in environmentally sensitive areas according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS, 2015). Plasticulture increases the efficiency of water and fertilizer use (Shukla et al., 2014), potentially reducing the impacts of the agricultural production on the water source and downstream water quality. Conversely, the major disadvantages of the plasticulture system include the removal and disposal of the plastic and drip tubing, increase in management since drip irrigation generally requires daily monitoring, and greater initial costs compared with the bare ground system (Goyal, 2013). However, to increase the adoption rate among Florida producers, farmers should have access to information about the economic feasibility of the system in comparison with the traditional production practices. Currently, limited information exists on the cost and profitability of a plasticulture system for cabbage production. Past studies focused on different horticultural crops and were conducted in regions with different production conditions than those common to Florida. For example, Pitts et al. (1989) and Prevatt et al. (1992) found a significant cost increase for drip compared with seepage irrigation for Florida tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production with no significant yield increase to offset the increase in the costs. Conversely, Vavrina and Roka (2000) and Simonne et al. (2002) compared costs and returns for plasticulture with bare ground for onion (Allium cepa) and okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), respectively. Both studies showed that plasticulture could be an economically feasible option for these crops in Florida, since increased yields and returns outweighed the higher production costs. Tiwari et al. (2003), showed a net income of $4333/ha for plasticulture in India, which was 40% higher than what was reported for bare ground with furrow irrigation. Although those results were promising, the soil conditions, plant spacing, and market requirements for cabbage in that study were considerably different from Florida’s, reducing the applicability of their findings to address concerns in Florida.
Plasticulture requires a high initial capital investment, which can be a barrier for adoption by vegetable producers. Therefore, the adoption of plasticulture in cabbage production will depend on the ability of this system to increase marketable yield enough to offset the higher production costs, or the availability of a cost-share program to balance the increased cost. Accurate information about the costs and benefits of the plasticulture system is critical for outreach programs aimed at educating producers about more economically feasible and environmentally sustainable production practices. The information is also important to determine if a cost-share program should be established to incentivize and compensate producers for the extra expenses incurred with the plasticulture system.
Barrett et al. (2015) proposed an innovative plasticulture system for high plant population cabbage production in Florida and Paranhos et al. (2016) examined yield variability of this new system as function of different transplanting dates. In both studies, cabbage marketable yield ranged from 42 to 70 Mg·ha−1. These marketable yields were considerably higher than the 340 cwt/acre average reported for bare ground and seepage irrigation according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2015), indicating that plasticulture has the potential to increase revenue and sufficiently offset the costs.
The objectives of this study were to compare the profitability of plasticulture cabbage production and traditional seepage irrigation systems for Florida cabbage production, and to determine the breakeven point for cabbage grown using plasticulture given a range of market prices.
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