Smart agriculture is helping ethanol and sugar producers in Brazil increase crop yields and optimise the performance of workers and machines through improved production logistics and plantation designs based on available land, topography and ideal planting time
Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world. Most of its farms are located in the city of São Paulo, where processing plants produce sugar and ethanol. One of them is Guaíra Sugar Mill, an award winning mill and electricity producer. Founded in 1981, Guaíra distillers started out producing 120,000 litres of ethanol a day. Today, 2,700 workers produce 480,000 litres and 1,000 tonnes of sugar per day. The produce is supplied across the Brazilian, European, African, Smart agriculture is helping ethanol and sugar producers in Brazil increase crop yields and optimise the performance of workers and machines through improved production logistics and plantation designs based on available land, topography and ideal planting time Middle Eastern, Chinese and Russian markets. The processing ensures every part of the cane is used. The wet waste of the distillery is returned to the field to be used as composite fertiliser, while the dry waste fuels an electric power generator. The generator makes the mill self-sufficient in electric energy, and its surplus is sold to the electric grid.
A typical cane stalk is approximately 3-metre high and is 70% water. Its stems can be harvested for five to six years, if managed correctly. However, harvest productivity can be quite a challenge without proper irrigation or precision agriculture. Maximising harvest potential also means keeping harvesting machines from running over the plant lines and killing the cane stems. The use of an autopilot in the machines can reduce this loss, but without proper interpretation and handling of the line information, this benefit is limited.
The growing demand for ethanol in a highly competitive market has created a perfect opportunity for the early adoption of precision agriculture. Hexagon’s Smart Agriculture solution not only optimises the utilisation of land and water, but also ensures maximum benefits of fertilisers, pesticides, seeds and other farming resources.
Utilising geo-processing software from Intergraph and steering solutions from Leica Geosystems — two of Hexagon’s leading brands — Guaíra Sugar Mill kept abreast of crop management and production through digital workflows created from geo-enabled data. With the analysed information, action could be taken to optimise processes and increase efficiencies, thereby improving crop yields and saving costs. The Intergraph GeoMedia software helped Guaíra Sugar Mill map all its land in a geo-referenced database with precise representation of field limits, water resources, roads and infrastructure for electricity and waste management. The topography of the land was optimised to create manageable farming areas.
Initially, planting lines should follow the topography of the terrain to guarantee a proper water supply for the sugarcane. Smart Agriculture helped the mill’s designer in creating multiple line alternatives and selecting the best set of lines to be sent to the autopilots. The system could estimate the time and fuel needed for each field operation and provided better precision and reliability for planting, harvesting and pulverisation. By integrating with the automatic pilot, Guaíra Sugar Mill was able to increase the number of lines for crop rows, increasing the amount of sugarcane produced.
“The process for automatically generating crop row lines has improved dramatically,” says Alfredo Barbosa Neto, coordinator of geo-technology at Rosário Farm, a branch of Guaíra Sugar Mill. “We used to waste a lot of time on each project. Now, we take only a few minutes. The planting team has more time to analyse all the projects and check for accuracy.”
Smart Agriculture maximised the use of land by increasing the number of lines per hectare with a rational design. It enabled faster decision making with ease of access to geographic plantation information. The lines could be stored for reuse in future harvesting, fertilising and pest control.
During the 2011-12 harvest, Guaíra Sugar Mill achieved an average productivity of 82.4 tonne per hectare on a fouryear- old plantation. This was 23% higher than 68.29 tonne per hectare, the average Brazilian productivity in sugarcane for the same period.
“With Smart Agriculture, it is now possible to have a geospatial view of the entire plot area before initialising the work, saving both time and fuel,” said Neto. “By using this new technology, we have already projected more than 2,000 hectare of planting area. Imagine the number of additional plants this software will generate for all the farms owned by Guaíra Sugar Mill.”