A global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050 will require a near doubling of food production during the next 35 years. Technologies developed at Iowa State University offer an answer – horticultural pots made from plant-based materials that actually stimulate the plants to grow stronger and produce more.

Researchers at Iowa State have come up with an alternative to the traditional petroleum-based plastic pot, a biobased container made from soybean flour and polylactic acid. The new pots provide nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients to the plants during and after greenhouse production. Instead of discarding the pots during transplanting, the grower can simply break up the pot, deposit the pieces in the soil, and the degrading bioplastic will provide nutrients to the plant during the growing cycle.

“Not only are they biodegradable, they actually change the root ball structure of the plants so they yield more fruits and vegetables,” said David Grewell, professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and affiliate of Iowa State’s Center for Crops Utilization Research.

He added that instead of a mass of circling roots found in a conventional pot, the roots in a biopot grow straight and are ready to penetrate the soil, improving transplant establishment. “The plants look healthier,” Grewell said.

Grewell said the new pots were featured at NPE 2015, an international exposition for the plastics industry, March 23 – 27, and should appear in retail garden centers sometime in 2016.