CTBE develops technological changes in processes needed for the agricultural management of a more sustainable sugarcane production. The physical side of the agricultural practices is quite restrictive to the protocols of field management. The projects are focused on the way the operations are executed in order to reduce economical and environmental impacts of sugarcane production.
Great effort has being made by the breeding programs in Brazil to increase sugarcane yield and resistance to pests and diseases but little was done to create mechanical tools flexible enough to manage plantations according to plant requirements instead of adapting the agricultural practices to the existing equipment.
The three main mechanical processes being studied are: soil compaction by field power units as well as planting and harvesting processes. Planting, ratoon care, harvesting and in-field transportation involve heavy equipment currently associated with soil compaction, ratoon damage, fuel consumption as well as capital and operating costs. These sustainability drawbacks are mostly related to the operational principles of the available technology for mechanization and do not exist visible trends of changes being promoted by the equipment manufacturers. This trend is compatible with the mission of the manufacturer which does not include factors such as: soil conservation, production cost, crop yield and emissions of GHG.
Soil compaction results from the traffic of heavy equipment having narrow wheel tracks such as the one row harvesters that travel 6.7 Km/ha to remove 80 t of produce to the field boundaries. This condition makes about 60% of the soil inadequate for efficient plant growth after being travelled yearly by 16 heavily loaded tires of harvesters, tractors and side-dumping wagons. It also needs about 40 l of fuel/ha to overcame the rolling resistance to motion.
Controlled Traffic Structure (ETC)
Alternatives are being developed for the planting and harvesting processes to make them compatible with multi-row equipment in order to sharply reduce machine travel on productive soil and also reduce mechanization cost. A field power unit named Controlled Traffic Structure (ETC), having a 9 m wheel track was designed and built for experimental trials. Field trials using no-till farming applied to sugarcane show no yield decline when compared to conventional tillage and still have all the benefits already proved in grain agriculture under no-till farming.
Tests with the base machine prototype of the CTBE’s Controlled Traffic Structure (ETC).
Sugarcane Harvesting and Precision Planting
Uneven billet distribution of the current planting process requires excessive amount of seed in order to reduce skips that results in a competitive environment among about 30 seedlings/m that will end up, after a 100 day process of mortality, with less than 15 millable stalks/m. The precision planting process being developed is indicating significant yield increases in field trials established in sugar mills. This process places equally spaced seeds in the furrow so as to require less seed per unit area as well as create a less competitive environment to avoid seedling mortality and allow for a much larger percentage of the sprouted tillers to reach the millable stage.
The harvesting process studied by CTBE addresses mainly the stalk feeding operation into the harvester under severe conditions of tangled plantations. It is the main drawback of present technology that promotes losses, ratoon damage, high power demand and heavy restrictions to the development of multi row harvesters. Three are three prototypes at a field testing stage producing the required design data for the project of a multi row harvester able to overcome the main drawback described before.
The alternative mechanical processes described above are part of the new agricultural model proposed by CTBE focused on the integral use of sugarcane under more sustainable conditions for production.
Machinery prototypes produced by CTBE at a field testing stage.