Field research underway during the 2013 harvest at our Burdekin field.

Field research underway during the 2013 harvest at our Burdekin field.

Precision Agriculture: developing capacity for the sugar industry

Current 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 4 April 2014

In this article

  1. Overview
  2. Publishing History


Page 1 of 2

Optimising sugarcane production

Work conducted in the late 1990s demonstrated that, as with 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.

However, over the last five 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 negative impacts on soil quality.

The uptake of such technology means that the sugar industry is now well-positioned to move towards a more ‘information intensive’ PA-based system through the use of technologies such as:

  • yield mapping
  • high resolution soil survey
  • remote sensing and perhaps even crop quality sensing.

In 2006, CSIRO was 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 from Precision Agriculture - An avenue for profitable innovation in the Australian sugar industry, or expensive technology we can do without?

CSIRO’s current research, which is being carried out in collaboration with the University of Southern Queensland/National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture and Sugar Research Australia, addresses the recommendations contained in this review and thereby seeks to help the sugar industry to adopt PA approaches to production.

Key aspects of this work to date have been to develop recommendations for the collection and mapping of yield data and to identify opportunities for more targeted and efficient crop production.

Included in this has been research which aims to understand variation in the production of sugar, as opposed to just the yield of sugarcane; that is, both crop yield and quality are being considered.

The project has also provided the sugar industry with a demonstration of the close similarity between conductivity- and resistivity-based methods of high resolution electromagnetic soil survey.

Reducing environmental impact

Part of the intuitive appeal of PA is that by maximising the efficiency with which inputs, such as fertilisers, 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 and to align itself with environmental initiatives such as the Queensland Government's 'Reef Plan', which aims to protect the Great Barrier Reef from detrimental runoff from agriculture.

Once the basis for adopting PA into sugarcane production systems has been developed, we intend to quantify the benefits which accrue through using it as a tool for improved environmental stewardship.

Watch this video which outlines some of the opportunities presented by PA to one of the farmers collaborating in our research.

To find out more information and resources about understanding variability in agricultural production