Technology brings sweet refinement to sugar industry

Oct 02, 2014

The heartland of Australia’s sugar industry is on the cutting-edge of a new way of farming, but surprisingly growing crops is not the sole focus.

Instead farmers, millers and transporters in Queensland's Herbert River sugar cane region are using revolutionary, real-time smart mapping technology to track every stage of the supply chain, from farm to factory.

In fact, one of the heads of the program said many people don’t understand that agriculture is not just about farming.

“The Herbert River sugar industry is home to 560 growers, 23,000 canefields, 58 separate harvesting businesses and two mills,” said Raymond De Lai, Manager of non-profit industry group Herbert Resource Information Centre (HRIC).

“The individual efficiencies of these stakeholders are a vital part of the industry’s smooth operation.

“With this state-of-the-art technology, we are able to synchronise the steps of the supply chain by letting each link know how the others – and the harvest – are progressing.

“We expect the net effect across harvesting, transport and delivery to return as much as $25 million to the region annually.”

HRIC’s amazing results have already inspired wine giant Treasury Wines to trial the technology to unify the grape intake supply chain at its Rosemount Ryecroft winery in McLaren Vale.

Fitted directly on to farm equipment, the technology records data such as harvester location, down-time, speed and pour rate, which is regularly transmitted to a central system.

The information is then displayed on a series of user-friendly interactive maps and used to access reports and specific spatial intelligence.

“We can keep track of which fields have been harvested and what the current yield is, and estimate and revise the overall yield we expect,” Mr De Lai said.

“This helps determine estimated worker numbers, rail transport logistics, the end of season date and other vital harvest planning.”

Brett Bundock – Managing Director of HRIC’s technology partner, Esri Australia – said Australia’s agribusiness sector was on the cusp of a new era.

“The agribusiness sector is very much like an ecosystem – one component cannot adequately survive without interacting and cooperating with other components in the environment,” Mr Bundock said.

“With their world-first system, HRIC has demonstrated the significant impact smart mapping technology has on streamlining the supply chain process.

“It is a very exciting time for agribusiness.”