Active crop sensor to detect variability of nitrogen supply and biomass on sugarcane fields


Nitrogen management has been intensively studied on several crops and recently associated with variable rate on-the-go application based on crop sensors. Such studies are scarce for sugarcane and as a biofuel crop the energy input matters, seeking high positive energy balance production and low carbon emission on the whole production system. This article presents the procedure and shows the first results obtained using a nitrogen and biomass sensor (N-Sensor ALS, Yara International ASA) to indicate the nitrogen application demands of commercial sugarcane fields. Eight commercial fields from one sugar mill in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, varying from 15 to 25 ha in size, were monitored. Conditions varied from sandy to heavy soils and the previous harvesting occurred in May and October 2009, including first, second, and third ratoon stages. Each field was scanned with the sensor three times during the season (at 0.2, 0.4, and 0.6 m stem height), followed by tissue sampling for biomass and nitrogen uptake at ten spots inside the area, guided by the different values shown by the sensor. The results showed a high correlation between sensor values and sugarcane biomass and nitrogen uptake, thereby supporting the potential use of this technology to develop algorithms to manage variable rate application of nitrogen for sugarcane.

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All this work would not be possible without the collaboration of São Martinho’s Mill team, the support of Máquinas Agrícolas Jacto SA and the Research Fellowship to the first author from the Brazilian Government (CNPq—National Council of Scientific and Technological Development).

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Correspondence to J. P. Molin.

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Portz, G., Molin, J.P. & Jasper, J. Active crop sensor to detect variability of nitrogen supply and biomass on sugarcane fields. Precision Agric 13, 33–44 (2012).

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  • Nitrogen management
  • Optical sensing
  • Reflectance
  • Yara N-Sensor