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Enterprise GIS for sugar industry

Raymond De Lai1 and Dr Andrew Wood2
1Herbert Resource Information Centre, Ingham, Australia;
2Sucrogen Cane Products, Macknade, Australia
[email protected]

The Herbert Resource Information Centre (HRIC) has developed a collaborative Enterprise GIS solution based around ESRI ArcGIS Server architecture.

The HRIC is a highly successful and awarded GIS strategic partnership established between six organisations to deliver spatial information services to an agricultural community, located in Ingham, Australia. The major industry of Ingham is sugar cane agriculture. The district crushes between 4 and 5 million tonnes of cane annually. Wilmar Group, a major south-east Asian company, has recently purchased Sucrogen, the largest sugar miller in Australia, and a founding partner in the HRIC.

A key component of the HRIC Enterprise GIS solution is the Herbert Information Portal (HIP). The HIP is a world class whole-of-community solution that crosses organisational boundaries. This includes interfacing private sugar industry systems involved in the growing, harvesting, transporting and crushing of sugar cane, with local government and environmental management systems. This solution provides online access to real-time spatial information critical for improved decision making in the Herbert River sugar district, and in the Wet Tropics area of North Queensland.

This paper will present on the Australian sugar industry, and the key functions of the HRIC Enterprise GIS solution and HIP. It will include a look at the growth and opportunity of precision agriculture and how this integrates with the HIP. It will highlight the value agricultural communities can obtain from an Enterprise GIS solution andfinally it will present on future shared opportunities between HRIC and the Wilmar Group GIS Department.

The Herbert Resource Information Centre (HRIC) is a non-profit, collaborative, community-based partnership that builds community relationships and provides shared Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and expertise its partners in the Hinchinbrook Shire, North Queensland. The HRIC is a highly successful partnership between four sugar industry partners (Sucrogen; CANEGROWERS Herbert River District; Herbert Cane Productivity Services Ltd.; and BSES Limited); a local government organisation (Hinchinbrook Shire Council); and a community-based natural resource management organisation (Terrain NRM).

After an extensive strategic plan in 2007 and sub-sequential assessments of user requirements, a shared web-based tool to distribute an extensive range of geospatial information to all partners was recommended. This enterprise GIS Project, known as the Herbert Information Portal (HIP), was proposed and launched in 2009, and is now used to facilitate and promote community relationships and improve regional sugar cane productivity.

The HIP is a whole-of-community solution that crosses organisational boundaries and includes interfacing private sugar industry systems involved in the growing, harvesting, transporting and crushing of sugar cane with local government and environmental management systems. This solution provides online access to real-time spatial information critical for improved decision making in the Herbert River sugar district, and in the Wet Tropics area of North Queensland.

Herbert Region Sugar Industry
The Herbert River region is centred 100km north of Townsville, and 300km south of Cairns, in North Queensland, Australia. The township of Ingham is the central business district for the community. The region has a population of around 10 000, with the dominant industry being sugar cane. The district is in an environmentally sensitive area, with the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area on the western side, and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park World Heritage area on the eastern side. The area experiences warm humid summers with mild dry winters.

There are about 560 growers in the district supplying cane from more than 600 farms. Farm production varies from 2000 tonnes to greater than 100,000 tonnes of sugar cane. There is 64,000 ha of land under cultivation, with about 10,000 ha of this land being fallow (rested). The district averages 4.5million tonnes of sugar cane, with an annual value of around A$243 million.

Sugar cane is harvested mechanically in the district by 69 harvesting groups, of which the largest supplies around 85,000 tonnes of sugar cane each year. Sugar cane is transported to one of two mills in the district by a light rail network. The largest sugar mill, Victoria Mill, is the largest in Australia, and is capable of crushing 1200 tonnes of sugar cane per hour. Raw sugar is transported by rail to a nearby bulk sugar terminal where it is stored prior to being shipped. The raw sugar goes by conveyor belt along the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere (5.76km) to transport ships, andthe jetty is also capable of taking the largest ships used in the raw sugar trade.

There has been a rapid adoption of Precision Agriculture technologies in the Herbert River region to ensure industry viability and sustainability. The two key drivers of this rapid adoption have been the industries location in an environmentally sensitive area and continuing pressure of increasing business costs with low sugar commodity prices. A community base station network has been established by one of the HRIC partners (HCPSL), and this allows for GPS guidance of farm and harvesting machinery. All sugar cane harvesters are tracked via GPS and one third of these harvesters have sugar cane yield monitors. Key geospatial data such as soils, contours, aerial imagery, and infrastructure exist andthese are all brought together through the use of Enterprise GIS tools and solutions.

Key functions and applications
Key functions and applications delivered through the implementation of the HIP to the Herbert River community include:

  1. Cane mapping and management system – a system to automate the production of farm maps, simplify data creation and maintenance and provide spatial validation functionality to maintain the integrity of Sucrogen’s Corporate Management System.
  2. Real-time cane harvester monitoring system – 69 sugar cane harvesters with onboard computers, GPS, and NextG modems are tracked every 30 seconds (Figure 1).
  3. Cane harvest management system – there are 19 000 cane paddocks in the area that need coordinated and planned harvesting. Daily, the GPS points are turned into harvested areas (polygons) that allow the sugar industry to determine what cane paddocks have been harvested and what is remaining to be harvested (Figure 1). Two people are now able to do the work which 12 people were doing 15 years ago.
  4. Cane consignment error trapping – system to identify and trap errors in the consigning of sugar cane from the paddock to the mill.
  5. Cane yield monitoring system – one third of the sugar cane harvesters in the area have been fitted with yield monitors. The HRIC system automatically receives yield information every three seconds. The system then allows for the production of cane yield maps (t/ha), which are then able to be accessed by the cane grower through the web portal.
  6. Sucrogen rail safe integration – the Sucrogen cane rail transport infrastructure in the Hinchinbrook area consists of more than 300 sidings, 550 km of 600 mm gauge cane rail, 26 locomotives and more than 8000 cane bins of both eight and ten tonne capacity. GPS units have been fitted to all locomotives as part of a Railsafe Program designed to monitor locomotive movements as an aid for safer operation and to better understand and identify potential efficiency gains within the transport system. The real-time cane harvesting information has been integrated with Sucrogen’s rail safety system.
  7. Increased GIS software availability (across Internet) – we have developed a process that allows us to ‘float’ our concurrent use GIS licences out to our partners across the internet. For example, our ESRI Arc/Info licence is used by one of the HRIC partners to check in/check out data into a geo-database each night. This allows us to get greater value from our investment in GIS software, making it available to a wider group of users.
  8. Pest and weed portal – a tool that allows web-based spatial editing functionality for inspections (recording the presence and absence) of pests and weeds based on the Queensland Government pest and weed standard. This allows pest and weed extension officers, government staff and growers to map the incidence of pests and weeds through a web-based browser, with no need for GIS software.
  9. Harvest performance report – real-time report presented as a table showing operational information for all harvester groups. Information such as the harvester id, group name, tonnes harvested, pour rate, number of bins filled etc. are displayed. The report also provides the ability to track back through time to see harvest performance at any time throughout the season.
  10. Grower Farm Data – a tool has been developed that allows agricultural officers to record data by sugar cane block on farming practices using web-based tools such as productivity, type of sugar cane, and fertilisers and chemicals used. Tools for online GIS editing are included. Reports can be generated to look at uptake of best practice farming techniques.

Figure 1. Herbert Information Portal showing areas harvested in green and daily harvester operations as coloured points.

What is an Enterprise GIS?
An Enterprise GIS is an integrated, multi-departmental system intended to address both the collective and individual needs of an organisation and to make geographic information services available to GIS and non-GIS professionals (ESRI, 2007). An Enterprise Approach to GIS consolidates ‘silos’ of information, standardises existing technologies and minimises the duplication of information services. The core principle of an Enterprise GIS solution is to maximise business and industry efficiency through a collaborative approach towards a single ‘point of truth’. Jack Dangermond, CEO of ESRI, commented: “The whole GIS concept and technology has been about sharing and integrating geospatial information from many sources. The web and web services pattern represent a new and powerful way to share information and collaborate in its use” (ESRI, 2007).

A system architecture that leverages off web technologies enables information to be disseminated to a wide audience very easily and quickly. A web server becomes the platform for supporting the integration of GIS knowledge into an Enterprise GIS. The web-based model is seen in the spatial industry as the future for GIS applications because of its rapid growth in services, technologies, familiarity and audience.

An Enterprise GIS promotes accessibility, reliability, security, accuracy, scalability and cost efficiency as it provides a common infrastructure on which to deploy and build GIS applications. It delivers business value across organisations and partnerships.

Benefits from a server-based Enterprise GIS
The Australian sugar industry has a clear local supply chain (growing, harvesting, transporting, and milling), however, unlike our major competitor the Brazilian Sugar Industry, we lack vertical integration. In Brazil, one farm is likely to be the size of our entire region (65 000 ha), and all elements of the supply chain exist in a single business. In the Herbert Sugar region, for comparison, we have more than 560 individual farming businesses, 69 cane harvesting businesses, two sugar mills (although owned by same company), a dozen planting and fertilising contractors, and a number of research and development institutions.

The HIP provides the infrastructure to reduce data duplication, double handling, and redundancy, and improve data security, as each HRIC partners’ business works in separate ‘silos’. This is one of the core drivers for the existence of the HIP, and the HRIC collaboration is to provide an infrastructure that is able to integrate these business systems to provide for improved economies of scale, business efficiency, and improved decision making. The HRIC Enterprise GIS solution provides for ‘virtual’ integration in an industry that has high interdependence, but lacks vertical integration. This is also what is so unique about the HIP – core business systems have been integrated across organisational boundaries, crossing firewalls and bridging institutional structures.

Traditional approaches to precision farming systems are farm-scale based. Precision farming on a regional scale can provide massive business, community and environmental benefits. The value of spatial data increases exponentially in value the more times it is used. The HIP provides the foundation infrastructure that allows for regional large scale adoption of precision farming systems. Without the HIP, this would not be possible. This should lead to improved uptake of precision farming tools and techniques leading to improved productivity and improved environmental outcomes.

System architecture and design
The HIP was developed with cutting edge, commercial, off-the-shelf ESRI, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Telstra technologies. Figure 2 shows the system architecture and components that make up the HIP. The ESRI suite of software underpins the online publication of spatial information through a flexibility to combine online data sources from additional vendors (including Google and Bing). The Enterprise GIS framework also provides inter-operable web services that can be consumed at a desktop level within non-ESRI applications (including AutoCAD and MapInfo) to allow a greater participation by desktop level GIS users.

The HIP itself has been constructed using the latest ESRI ArcGIS Server Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to make spatial information and functionality available online. One of the most successful components of this portal has been the inclusion of real-time sugar cane harvester tracking to allow the sugar industry and individual farmers to monitor and record the season’s harvest and assist with the correction of manual-handling and payment errors that can occur during cane allocation (i.e. from which farm was the sugar cane harvested). The combination of Hinchinbrook Shire Council’s Telstra NextG IP Cloud Network, local hardware technicians (with vast experience in South American sugar cane technologies), experienced specialist consultants and the HRIC partners are what have made this possible. Innovative use of check-out/check-in replication has also been used to allow remote desktop users to manage and edit the centrally located spatial datasets (including the fundamental cane block layer).

Figure 2: The HIP system architecture.

The HRIC is currently transitioning the HIP from Java script to Flex.

Industry Use
The take-up and use of the HIP by the local community has been impressive. All growers in the Herbert were emailed account details to access the HIP and individual accounts were established for key stakeholders in the Herbert sugar industry. There is no cost for cane growers or harvester operators to access the HIP.

Around 20% of our growers and harvesters are utilising the HIP at the moment. Up to 10% of our growers will log on to the HIP in any one day. Grower and harvester use of the HIP accounts for 40% of its use. The sugar millers are heavily reliant on it. The HIP is receiving up to 60 000 requests per month.

Wilmar GIS
Wilmar International Group’s recent purchase of Sucrogen has added the milling and refining of sugar cane to their portfolio. Wilmar International Group have a substantial Survey and GIS Department that was established in 2007 to support oil palm plantation operations. They have implemented their own Enterprise GIS solution based around ESRI software.

Wilmar Group has established itself as a world leader in plantation management by building and supporting processes over the full life-cycle and supply chain. This business advantage parallels with HRIC’s focus on building a GIS solution to encompass the full local supply chain of the sugar industry.

There are tremendous opportunities to leverage further value from our GIS solutions through the sharing of knowledge and skills, and joint systems development. HRIC is looking forward to establishing and maintaining a relationship with Wilmar Group. This opportunity is available because of both parties investments in an Enterprise GIS solution and the opportunity to extend the ‘virtual’ integration opportunities that Enterprise GIS solutions provide.

A collaborative approach to the implementation and operation of an Enterprise GIS infrastructure shows tremendous value. This has been obtained by focussing on the whole supply chain, rather than individual components, and delivering this information through the HIP to a large number of users. The HRIC Enterprise GIS and HIP was only possible due to the collaborative approach, use of an off-the-shelf system, clear and concise strategic plan and effective utilisation of stakeholder skills and knowledge.

Interestingly, current technology coupled with our HIP Enterprise GIS solution allows us to do almost anything we can envision. Our challenge to date however has been to identify the business models that can sustain and support these opportunities.

This all simply means that our sugar community benefits from access to information in a secure and reliable form and from the improved level of decision-making that a web-enabled Enterprise GIS solution delivers. It also highlights the significant value that the HRIC and HIP can provide to our partners and to our community by building and enhancing relationships among people and organisations, which results in a more vibrant and resilient community.


  • ESRI (2007) What’s new in ArcGIS 9.2. ESRI Redlands.