Less fertiliser: same profit. Developing a drone-guided fertilisation plan

July 26th, 2018

A colourful image of sugarcane

See what the LiDAR sees: sugarcane fields surround a group of farmers in Tully, Qld.

Nitrogen fertiliser lost from sugarcane farming is one of the main pollutants threatening the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Current fertiliser management practices are neither ecologically sustainable nor financially optimal. Many farmers apply the maximum amount of nitrogen to their crop, which can lead to excess fertiliser run-off.

Digiscape Postdoctoral fellow, Dr Yuri Shendryk, and the team in a cane field near Cairns

Dr Yuri Shendryk

Our research shows that fertiliser use on sugarcane can be reduced but still generate the same profit. To advise farmers on how this can happen we use a drone-based system, which is based on a LiDAR sensor and is able to provide a guided fertilisation plan. Using this system, we can track the performance of the crop from establishment to harvest, and easily identify fertiliser-deficient sugarcane, which usually appears shorter and sparser as early as 10 weeks from planting.

By Dr Yuri Shendryk, Digiscape post-doctoral fellow.