Flying high to locate crop failure in Sugarcane

Saksham Bhutani , Marketing Head at Indshine

February 12, 2020

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Within the last few years, sugarcane has become very important in Brazil’s economy and in the world scenario. Brazil is the largest producer of sugarcane in the world, sugarcane occupies 9.8 Million hectares that represents about 12% of all cropland in Brazil.

Brazil produces 25% of the world’s sugar & ethanol, so any damages and pests in Sugarcane can be crucial to the economy. Some of Brazil's main pests of sugarcane and their respective losses are:

  1. Sugarcane drill, from the genus Diatraea – with only 1% infestation, the loss can go up to 35 kilos of sugar and 30 liters of alcohol per hectare;
  2. Root and leaf cicadas of the genus Mahanarva – can cause productivity reductions ranging from 25% to 60% in sugarcane, and 11% in the plant cane;
  3. Sugarcane pecking, of the genus Sphenophorus – in average values, the losses incurred are around 20 to 23 tons per year per hectare cultivated;

There may be several causes associated with sugarcane crop failure some of them being: faulty planting methods, seed quality, climate, genetics, and soil quality. To cope-up with these issues, precision agriculture has become a necessity.

Here's a case story of Velbrax Agro, one of the leading companies working in the precision Agri-Tech market in the Sao Paulo region of Brazil who has helped a renowned agro company to locate crop failures in sugarcane farms through drones.

Concept

To indicate planting quality in sugarcane crops, an important parameter that is monitored is "gaps in crop plantation". Gaps are mostly caused by problems during planting operations (e.g., failures on stalks deposition, pests, dry weather, erosion, etc.).

sugarcane crop orthomosaic on Indshine

The main problem of sugarcane cultivators is how to increase the output per unit of input and thereby reduce these gaps. Earlier, the gap was figured out from visual analysis, and then those gaps were refilled with the sugarcane seeds to allow them to grow. But one needs to know how many tons of seeds will fill all the empty spaces. Before the use of drones, this process was visual and less efficient.

Quick facts about Sugarcane Crop

  1. In general, January to March is the period of planting and December to March is the period of harvesting.
  2. Sugarcane crop is harvested three times before a complete harvest.
  3. Mechanized farming has picked-up pace, leading to an increased gap in sugarcane.
  4. 0.5 to 1m is the standard spacing for sugar cane plantation
  5. If the spacing is more than 1.2m - 1.5m, it is assumed that there is a crop failure.

Problem Statement

A renowned agro-based company had been majorly facing the following issues with sugarcane production:

  1. Due to the inaccessibility of sugarcane fields, crop monitoring throughout the season becomes difficult
  2. Inefficient use of available resources, such as water, agrochemicals, vinasse, etc.
  3. High crop failures because of multiple reasons, including a growing pest problem in the Sao Paulo region.

This aforementioned agro company had partnered with Velbrax Agro for the following area of concern, for the aerial inspection of gaps in sugarcane field at the State of Sao Paulo.

project statement for Velbrax Agro

Approach

Carlos Orion, the co-founder at Velbrax Agro, figured a unique solution to the problem statements by proposing the use of drones. He used a fixed-wing drone for the detection and quantification of planting failure in sugar cane fields, near the City of Barrinha, in the State of Sao Paulo.

aerial survey procedure

  1. A fixed-wing drone mounted with an RGB sensor Sony A6000 (24MP) was used to capture raw images
  2. Orthomosaics were generated using DroneDeploy (photogrammetry software) by stitching raw images.
  3. Inbuilt algorithms were produced for finding gaps in the sugarcane fields. This is done by creating spacing lines. Concept can be easily understood through this video : https://youtu.be/dwIDbXHS8nY

Final Reports were prepared based on the spacing lines / gaps to figure out:

  1. How much is the percentage failure?
  2. How much is the number of occurrences?
  3. How much is the fault length range?

The project link shows the orthomosaic with spacing lines on it:

Results

Sharing the results of area-2 for glimpse:

  • Fault Report highlighting bar chart between "distribution of the number and length of failures" ; "number of occurrences" and "fault length ranges"

fault report for area 2

  • Parallelism Report highlighting distribution curve between "% of spacing" and "spacing interval".

Parallelism report showing histogram of spacing intervals

Summary

In a total area of 250 hectares, drones were able to save R$ 18,44,000 (Brazilian Real), which could have been sort of impossible by visual analysis.

cost analysis of crop failure Market price as per CONSECANA report is R$ 79.57 per ton

Carlos Orion (Co-founder at Velbrax Agro) explains - Indshine is the go-to option of showing their works to their existing as well as prospective clients. Indshine is a new concept of mapping share. Through Indshine, you can also choose how many and how people have access.

There's close to 5.6 million hectares sowing of sugarcane crops in the São Paulo region, hence a lot more potential to save. Technologies such as VRT, remote sensing, drones, GPS and GIS technology can add a lot of value in increasing productivity, decreasing labor overheads and enabling optimal use of resources.

References:

  1. http://www.igidr.ac.in/pdf/publication/WP-2013-011.pdf
  2. http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1413-70542016000300347
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318215770_Identification_of_gaps_in_sugarcane_plantations_using_UAV_images

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