Sugarcane harvesting in the Herbert River district.
Precision Agriculture: developing capacity for the sugar industry
New research aims to help canegrowers and the broader sugar industry to take advantage of the tools and techniques of precision agriculture (PA) in pursuit of both production and natural resource management goals.
6 November 2008 | Updated 14 October 2011
Optimising sugarcane production
Work conducted 10-20 years ago demonstrated that, like other farming systems, sugarcane production may be highly variable at the sub-paddock scale.
In spite of this, and for various reasons, whilst growers of grain crops and winegrapes have adopted PA approaches, almost no adoption occurred in the sugar industry.
The sugar industry is well-positioned to move towards a more 'information intensive' precision agriculture based system.
Over the last two to three years, there has been a rapid uptake of GPS-based guidance and controlled traffic systems as the sugar industry moves towards the ‘new farming system’ and associated efforts to minimise soil compaction.
The uptake of such technology means the sugar industry is now well-positioned to move towards a more ‘information intensive’ PA-based system through the use of technologies such as:
In 2006, CSIRO were commissioned by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation (SRDC) to review PA and its potential application to sugarcane production. The resulting report made a number of recommendations which are available at: Precision Agriculture - An avenue for profitable innovation in the Australian sugar industry, or expensive technology we can do without? [external link].
CSIRO’s current research, which is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland/National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture, the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations and numerous industry collaborators, with funding support from SRDC, addresses the recommendations contained in this review and thereby seeks to help the sugar industry to adopt PA approaches to production.
Reducing environmental impact
Part of the intuitive appeal of PA is that by maximising the efficiency with which inputs, such as fertilizers, are used, the risk of them being lost off-site is reduced. In fact, the sugar industry has begun to use this idea to promote its environmental credentials.
Once the basis for adopting PA into sugarcane production systems has been developed, we intend to explore its merits as a tool for improved environmental stewardship.
Download more information and resources about Dr Rob Bramley: understanding variability in agricultural production.