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Feb 14, 2018

Sugar Researchers Take to Skies for Survey

The use of drones and lidar technology for mapping were not previously available for farming practices, but it is now here and replacing old methods of surveying in the sugar industry. With already an unusual amount of rainfall this year, the research arm of ASR/B.S.I. carried out the first aerial survey using the cutting-edge technology in cane fields up north this morning. The results will provide more adequate and precise information to stakeholders on water flows within the cane fields that ultimately affect the cane yield. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.


Duane Moody, Reporting

The Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute, through funding from the European Union, has embarked on the first ever Lidar aerial survey for the sugar belt across the two northern districts of Corozal and Orange Walk. As early as seven o’clock this morning, industry stakeholders and the media set out to an open area between the villages of Guinea Grass and San Lazaro, known as Richmond Hill, where the survey would be carried out.


Marcus Osorio

Marcus Osorio, Director, SIRDI

“The northern part of the country is known generally as the flat plains. Every time we get rains, you would find water everywhere. This particular project aims or the final result will be the design of a master drainage plan for the northern districts of Belize, particularly for the sugar industry but it will impact across every sector within the sugar belt.  The works started last week Wednesday which was the ground team to do the demarcation or the marking of the areas, geo reference for the recognisance of the drones. And why because their estimates was that they would be marking four thousand hectares per day. Things have gone well, today we should have somewhere around thirty-five thousand hectares already marked.”


The project will see nine hundred square kilometers of sugar cane farm lands surveyed, identified by industry stakeholders as areas of interest within the sugar belt. Director of SIRDI, Marcus Osorio, says the aim is the development of a drainage plan for the area because excessive rains, as has been seen in previous crop seasons, affect the quality of the sugar cane; two months into the 2017-2018 season and already the rains are unusual.


Marcus Osorio

“Excess water in cane fields results in no oxygen to the root system and having no oxygen then there is no growth. What is most important in terms of the sugar industry is that excess water or the issue of water logging and so on in the northern part of the country for the sugar industry has results in more incidents of pests, lower yields and much inefficiency in the sugar industry. As we are speaking today, we have a crop that is ongoing and as you can appreciate we are mid-February and we are having rains which is not expect, it is very unusual. And it impacts the harvest, the impacts quality; it affects the cane field, it affects the land and generally it brings about a poor output of sugar to the mill.”


The one-month survey is being done by Agri-Sense International, precision agriculture technologies out of South Africa. Using a drone and lidar laser gun, it will map up to four thousand hectares, capturing pictures of the designated area. Agri-Sense Managing Director and Photogrammetry Specialist, Russell Longhurst, breaks down the process.


Russell Longhurst

Russell Longhurst, Managing Director, Agri-Sense International

“The technology has advance sensors on it and knows its exact geo location so that’s its position in the air. And it takes photographs and has overlaps—forward and natural. What that means is that every one point on the ground is covered in about fourteen photographs and this allows the stereoscopic photogrammetry to happen and then we process the elevations from that.”


The topographical data collected will then be used to create a blueprint for the landscape of the drainage facility that will be implemented through another phase of the project. That will see government lobby for funding, most likely through a loan facility from an international banking institution for its installation.


Marcus Osorio

“We have a consultant coming, which is a consultant specialized in the translation and processing of this data. He comes in later in March. He will work on the processing of these images and then sometime after he finishes that exercise, we have the hydrologist coming in. This should be around April and then he starts the designing. He will start developing the blueprint for the master drainage plan, using all this information and that is estimated to be delivered by August of this year and that would have this phase complete.”


Osorio asserts that the benefits of the land use management project, including the drainage master plan, extends the agricultural industry.


Marcus Osorio

“It will impact, it will benefit, not only the sugar industry; it will benefit the road network infrastructure, it will benefit the communities that are prone to flooding. It will benefit tourism and I think it will bring about major developments for the northern districts because water management is a big issue.”


The design will also consider catchment areas such as the rivers for the drainage system. Duane Moody for News Five.

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