THE country’s sugarcane industry aims to raise yield levels by over a fourth to 75 metric tons (MT) per hectare by utilizing an Australian-inspired irrigation and sensor technology that would allow the sector to adapt to changes in the climate.
In a seminar series hosted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), Armando N. Espino Jr., Water Resources Management Center (WRMC) head, said irrigation will be a major key to raising sugar productivity, adding that the sector can further increase its present P87-billion contribution to the economy by augmenting the application of irrigation.
“Water is a major limiting factor for productivity (especially) in changing climatic conditions and weather patterns. The industry expansion depends upon efficient water use,” said Espino.
The project of WRMC (of the Central Luzon State University) installed an automatic weather station (AWS) at the Luzon Agricultural Research and Extension Center (LAREC) of the Sugar Regulatory Administration in Floridablanca, Pampanga.
The project is under the Smart Water Management Strategies for Sugarcane (SWMS) financed by the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and natural Resources Research and Development.
The installation of the AWS is with the vision to adapt a technology inspired by Australia’s National Center for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA). Australia itself has an average cane yield of 91 MT of cane per hectare (with yield reaching to 120 MT per hectare), and its sugar exports hit $1.8 billion in 2015-2016, making Australia world’s third largest sugar exporter.
Australian farmers use internet-enabled sensing technologies and can turn on or off irrigation system from their homes as they monitor farm data and give remote instruction on irrigation.
“Technology is already in the hand of farmers in Australia. They have a soil-crop-weather simulation model where farmers can expect this amount of growth response in plant when you give this amount of irrigation,” said Espino.
The WRMC project has developed an Optimum Irrigation Scheduling Systems of Sugarcane using soil moisture and weather monitoring systems in an experimental work in Floridablanca.
The irrigation scheduling system maximizes use of water—delivers water to plants only when it is needed—when soil moisture is already low.
In the Floridablanca pilot farm, the WRMC project installed drip lines in that are 30 cm (centimeters) below the ground. It also installed soil moisture sensor around 50 cm below the ground – under the seedpiece.
This way, the sugarcane farms barely had weeds because water is underneath the ground.
The concept of automated irrigation involves the sensor’s ability to detect low soil moisture underground. When needed, water may be delivered to the root system via the driplines when a certain low soil moisture level (as programmed) is hit.
As Australian farms already use solar-powered pumping system for irrigation, Espino said the Department of Agriculture may soon have an extensive program to introduce solar-powered irrigation systems too.
“As researchers we should open our minds, so we can find solutions on how to improve farm operation in order to efficiently use resources, and for farmers to have higher income and increase yield for food security,” he said said.
WRMC found out that smart irrigation technologies will easily raise sugarcane yield by 30 percent. Non-irrigated lands give a yield of just 65 MT per hectare compared to 100 MT for irrigated lands. Moreover, its field experimentation showed that furrow irrigation gives the best yield and irrigation efficiency compared to drip irrigation. However, drip irrigation saved 68 percent of water compared to furrow irrigation.
The sugar sector is implementing irrigation programs in light of a development plan called “Strategically Diversified Sugarcane Industry by 2024” adopted under the approved Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015.