XAG Drones Tested, Add Sweet Spot for South Africa’s Sugar Crisis

XAG Drones Tested, Add Sweet Spot for South Africa’s Sugar Crisis


PIETERMARITZBURG, South Africa, July 6, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Drones, with specialty spraying expertise, was deployed for a latest sugarcane ripening path in South Africa, exhibiting an evident enhance within the quantity of sugar extracted from these canes. This may sign a possible enchancment in revenue margin for the cane growers, who’ve been incurring loss from the nation’s ailing sugar {industry}. 

XAG P Series drone on the work of sugarcane ripening in South Africa
XAG P Sequence drone on the work of sugarcane ripening in South Africa

Primarily grown in tropical and subtropical areas, sugarcane is the kind of perennial, high-value money crop that function juicy fruit in addition to the most important feedstock for sugar manufacturing. South Africa ranks the world’s high 15 sugar producing nations that present cost-effective, high-quality sugar merchandise. Nonetheless, as a result of a sequence of interweaving threats, primarily the inflow of low-cost imports and the imposition of sugar tax, South Africa’s $833 million sugar {industry} has been struggling to remain aggressive within the international market. Crop-spraying drones, in the meantime, gently faucet in and get ready to offer a brand new lease of life to this {industry}.

Drones outperform to reap recoverable worth

This June, in Seafield Farm, situated on the Midlands South area of KwaZulu-Natal, a brand new spherical of sugarcane harvest arrived. What made this harvest season particular was {that a} industrial ripening trial was carried out for the primary time to check the efficacy of drone and helicopter. Ripening refers back to the strategy of making use of chemical ripener to reinforce the content material of sucrose within the sugarcane vegetation normally six to 9 weeks earlier than harvest. The ripening utility has been extensively adopted as a routine administration that proves to successfully enhance cane high quality and sugar yield.

On this trial, totally different fields of the Seafield Farm have been chosen, every of which divided into two areas between 1 to five hectares assigned to totally different ripener purposes. The drone used was XAG P20, which carried a customized spraying attachment and 12-litre sensible liquid tank designed in a modular style. It adopted the pre-set flight route, operated at a set top 2 to three metres above the crops, and sprayed precisely into the goal fields. Outcomes present that the normal manned helicopter was significantly outperformed by XAG drone in each cane yield and high quality of the harvested crops.

The areas ripened with drones had a small, but important 1% enhance in recoverable worth (RV), in comparison with these ripened with helicopter. In South Africa, RV is the accepted measure of the quantity of sugar recovered from each ton of cane crushed within the mills.

“This implies rather a lot to us. With larger sugar extracted from each tons of sugarcane, we receives a commission larger and my farms turn into extra worthwhile,” mentioned Kim Hein, the licensed operator of XAG drone in addition to cane grower who has been testing the feasibility of drone spraying answer in sugarcane cultivation.

Underneath the RV Cane Cost System since 2000, the South African farmers are remunerated for his or her harvested sugarcane primarily based on recoverable worth. As RV% usually falls inside 9% to 14%, the greater than 1% enhance is a comparatively passable progress for sugarcane growers to acquire a larger return on funding. This smallest breakthrough may imply an important deal to particular person farmers going through an ailing sugar {industry}.

The latest two years have seen a substantial drop available in the market value of RV, which signifies that farmers are payed much less for the sugarcane of the identical recoverable worth. That is largely attributed to the flood of low-priced sugar import and the introduction of tax on sugar-sweetened drinks (or well being promotion levy) that brings down the demand for native sugar.

Small-scale growers being the early adopters

Regardless of the market chaos of the sugar {industry}, South Africa has granted the authorized take-off of agricultural drones final yr which may innovatively rework the labour-intensive farming ecosystem. Kim Hein, the person behind the Seafield Farm ripening trial, has bought agricultural drones from XAG to have a tendency its self-owned 200ha sugarcane area in addition to these of his farmer counterparts.

“Drone, imagery, and sensible agriculture system can assist us remedy many environmental and labour issues,” Hein mentioned. Drones with precision spraying skill can handle the rising strain to make use of much less chemical, whereas decreasing labour utilization to sort out the rising labour price that’s disproportionate to the standard of labor performed. As the benefits of drone expertise begin to shine via, there was a rising acceptance of drone-based therapy by cane farmers, who has been coping with difficulties to handle this specialty crop.

Sugarcane vegetation can attain three to 7 metres excessive, that floor tools reminiscent of tractors are inapplicable. Handbook choice with knapsack sprayer can expose area staff on to the chemical substances. This leaves manned aerial approaches, reminiscent of helicopter and airplane, for use for sugarcane ripening over the previous 20 years.

In line with Heim, helicopter spraying can deal with giant areas in a short time, however the draw back of it was that almost all sugarcane fields are fairly small in measurement. In line with South Africa Sugar Affiliation (SASA), small-scale farmers represent 90% of the nation’s 22,949 registered sugarcane growers, predominantly situated in two provinces particularly Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal. They kind the spine of the sugar {industry} worth chain.

“We normally find yourself with downside with the helicopter firm which supply a minimal spray of 50 hectares a day, however we solely need to do 2 to three hectares every week. This doesn’t permit any flexibility within the ripening course of which implies the end result may fail,” defined by Hein. Giant airplane and helicopter can solely be topic to blanket spray, which implies they work on large areas at a time that doesn’t match effectively with farmers’ harvesting schedule.

As an alternative, the drones that Hein makes use of are designed by XAG to facilitate precision utility in agriculture. They’ll easily function on varied terrains, regardless of steep slopes or irregular-shaped plots, that are frequent locations the place most South African sugarcane vegetation are grown. Owing to real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning and the particular atomised nozzles, XAG drones can spray extra exactly and evenly heading in the right direction areas with out affecting the neighbouring fields not but prepared for ripening. This assist minimize down the usage of chemical substances by 30% and converse agricultural water by 90%.

Prepare for the Sugar Grasp Plan

The introduction of precision drones into farming enhances authorities’s dedication to rejuvenate the sugar {industry}. The Division of Commerce, Business and Competitors has introduced the Sugar Masterplan this June that marks a serious milestone in efforts to make sure the well being and longevity of the {industry}.

The sugar {industry} makes necessary contributions to South Africa’s financial actions and rural employment. Its direct and oblique employment is estimated at 435,000 jobs, in addition to representing over 11% of the full agricultural workforce. Nonetheless, primarily based on the SASA statistics, the annual sugar manufacturing has declined by 25% over the previous 20 years, whereas the variety of sugarcane farmers skilled a decline by 60% together with a discount by 45% in sugar industry-related jobs.

The Sugar Masterplan goals to reverse this {industry} downtrend and shield tens of 1000’s of livelihoods in rural areas. As SA Cane Growers’ Affiliation chairperson Rex Talmage launched, the warmly welcomed plan consists of the actions to reinforce import safety, diversify sugar by-product manufacturing (i.e. biofuel) and assist small-scale cane farmers, which might enhance demand within the native market.

Amid the {industry} reconstruction, sensible agriculture expertise reminiscent of drones may play a brand new function within the upstream a part of the sugar worth chain. By way of producing larger recoverable worth, decreasing labour prices, and minimising the usage of chemical substances, drones may assist to ensure sustainable provide of sugarcane and enhance the profitability of small-scale growers.

When speaking about his future plan, Kim Hein expressed optimistic attitudes in direction of the scale-up of sensible agtech. “The variety of duties that may be performed with drones have rising. We are actually testing new purposes to deal with sugarcane crops at totally different levels in methods we may by no means picture previously.” In South Africa, sugarcane is harvested in an 18 to-24-month rotation, when agricultural drones can apply all through the interval from area mapping, fertilisation, controlling illnesses, weeds, and pests, to ripening.

About XAG

Based in 2007, XAG is a world-leading agriculture expertise firm with 13 years of technical expertise in unmanned aerial system (UAS) and 7 years of sensible expertise in revolutionary area purposes. Up to 30 April 2020, XAG has over 51,000 agricultural drones in operation, having empowered eight million farmers with precision crop safety companies on 28 million hectares of farmland. With a world mission to advancing agriculture, XAG is dedicated to constructing digital farming infrastructure, creating precision farming tools, reminiscent of robots, drones, AI and IoT, and creating sensible agriculture ecosystem.

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