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Drones to improve the Sugar Industry Print E-mail
( 5 Votes )
Written by Administrator   
Thursday, 15 February 2018 00:00

For the next 30 days, the Sugar Industry Research and Development Institute (SIRDI) will be working with a South African consulting firm to implement phase 1 of a drainage master plan for the sugar belt, which spans the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts. This master plan is envisioned to help cane farmers by mitigating the damage to their crops due to flooding, during the wet months of the cultivation and the harvesting season.

Marcos Osorio, the Executive Director of SIRDI told the press, “Excess water in cane fields results in no oxygen to the root system, and having no oxygen, then there is no growth…In terms of the sugar industry… that excess water, or the issue of water-logging and so on in the northern part of the country, for the sugar industry, has resulted in more incidence of pest, lower yields and much inefficiency in the sugar industry.”

That’s where the drainage masterplan will help.

On Wednesday, February 14, the experts from SIRDI, and the South African firm, Agri-Sense, invited the press to an area of the Orange Walk District called Ridgemond Hill, which is located between the Guinea Grass and San Lazaro Villages. That’s where Agri-Sense started their first day of work. In order for this drainage masterplan to be effective, the engineers who will design it will require proper reconnaissance of the topography and elevation of the land that it will sit on. That’s where Agri-Sense comes in. They will be surveying an area of the 2 districts that spans 900 square kilometers - or about 347.4 square miles.

They specialize in the technique called stereo photogrammetry, which is the science of taking accurate measurements using photographs. The way it works is that a ground team has gone in and placed markers along a path in a certain distance. For example, on day one, the team intended to measure 15 square miles of cane fields and land alike. In this instance, the Agri-Sense Team then flew their unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) - or drones as most people know them - along this path where the markers were set up. Every time the drone passed over a marker, it took a photograph of the land around the marker, giving an accuracy of about 2 centi-meters.

Russell Longhurst, the Managing Director of Agri-Sense told the press, “The drone flies over, takes a picture of the marker. We know the position of the marker. We know the position of the drone, and then we can actually get the accurate elevation and tie all those points together to get a model.”

So, the Agri-Sense technical team will be splitting up their survey into 15- square mile fly-overs per day. The drones will fly a chosen path, take pictures of all the markers, and then all that data will be collated and interpreted into a 3D model of the topography of the entire 347.4 square miles. They will be in Belize for a total 30 days to photograph the entire elevation of this area.

Marcos Osorio, the Executive Director of SIRDI told the press that this is where the next phase of the drainage masterplan will take place. Once that is completed, and the images are delivered to SIRDI, another consultant will be brought in. That consultant specializes in translation of this data into the models needed. A hydrologist will then come to Belize, and he will design the blue print of this drainage plan to suit the topography of the area.

After that, the Government will have to source the funding to actually build the drainage system. The SIRDI Executive Director believes that the system will bring improvements in areas other than the Sugar Industry.

Osorio told the media, “It will bring 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. It’s something that we’ve not really done anything about”.