Leading Producer of Sugarcane Traces Planting Lines 75% Faster with Drones

Ipiranga Agroindustrial sees 130% ROI using DroneDeploy to automate planting with John Deere tractors

DroneDeploy
Dec 1, 2017 · 6 min read

If you put sugar in your coffee this morning, there’s a good chance it started its journey to your cup as a single stalk planted on a sloping, hillside field. Much of the world’s sugarcane is grown in this type of hilly terrain. But mapping out the planting lines for a sloped field is an expensive process.

Replacing traditional ground methods with a drone-based aerial survey improves safety, increases efficiency, and cuts planting costs. Look no farther than Ipiranga Agroindustrial for proof. The Brazil-based company — a leading producer of sugar and ethanol — used drone data to create an accurate contour map of a 300-acre field — tracing the field’s planting lines 75% faster compared to ground methods.

Ipiranga Agroindustrial S/A is one of the largest sugar and ethanol producers in Brazil. Its processing plants are members of Copersucar, Brazil’s leading commercial sugar and ethanol company. Copersucar holds roughly 12% of the world market for free-trade sugar, currently estimated at 58 million tons.

Ipiranga uses DroneDeploy maps on a daily basis for everything from evaluating plant health to drafting altimetry plans, to measuring the volume of sugarcane pulp. The company recently used drone data to trace lines for an autopilot planting project near Sao Paulo.

By collecting data from above, Ipiranga not only improved efficiency by 75%, but they also reduced safety risks posed by collecting data on foot. And they decreased costs related to tractor oil, maintenance, and man-hours in the process.

Representatives from Ipiranga Agroindustrial S/A prepare to launch their DJI Inspire 1 at a sugarcane field near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Drone-generated Contour Maps are a Faster, Safer Method for Tracing Planting Lines

Sugarcane farmers often trace their planting lines along the contours of a field’s slope to avoid erosion and improve natural irrigation on hillside fields. But the process of mapping these contour lines is labor-intensive, usually taking several days on a tractor. It takes around two days to trace a 300-acre field — tying up valuable machinery and manpower that could be used elsewhere.

As a leading producer of sugarcane, Ipiranga Agroindustrial has a stake in streamlining this process. Earlier this year, they decided to see if drone data could make things easier.

As a test case, the company mapped a 300-acre field near Sao Paulo using a DJI Inspire 1 equipped with a standard RGB camera. After creating a flight plan ahead of time in DroneDeploy, they placed ground control points (GCPs) across the field to ensure the level of global accuracy necessary for creating a contour map with drone data. The drone itself was flown at an altitude of 200 feet, with 70/80 overlap. Four flights, averaging twenty minutes each, brought the total flight time to around eighty minutes.

From start to finish, Ipiranga’s in-house drone operator was in the field for 4 hours, compared to the two days it takes to gather the same data on the ground with a tractor. Drones did the work 75% faster.

Orthomosaic and elevation maps of 300-acre sugarcane field on a hillside near Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“We estimate our return-on-investment with drones is 130%, and it should take only a few months to reach it,” says Ipiranga’s topographer, Edenilson Danezi.

The return-on-investment for drone-based data collection was clear. But was the information accurate enough to meet the company’s needs? Three other drone solutions had already promised accurate data but failed to deliver the quality of information the sugarcane producer needed.

DroneDeploy Helps Deliver Higher Quality Data to Growers

After flying the field, the Ipiranga team processed their images in DroneDeploy to create high-resolution orthomosaic and elevation maps, as well as a 3D point cloud. They exported all of the data into AgroCAD, where they created a contour map and planting design. The lines generated from the geo-referenced drone map already had good field precision, so the team only needed to make a few adjustments in places with very sharp curves.

Using the contour map, Ipiranga created a planting plan with rows spaced 1.40 meters apart, then uploaded this information into John Deere Autopilot in preparation for plowing the field.

The result? Just as they had planned, the tractor plowed the field near the coast and belly of the level curve, without displacement. Finally, after three other solutions failed, DroneDeploy delivered accurate results worthy of applying across all of the company’s sugarcane fields.

“DroneDeploy is a reliable tool that meets the needs of our company for surveys, analysis, and more agile decision making.” — Ipiranga’s Agriculture Director, Bernardo Titoto

For those of us who rely on that sugar in our coffee each morning, this is welcome news.

The Value of Partnerships: Bembras Agro

DroneDeploy users hear about the platform from many different sources. But for enterprise companies like Ipiranga Agroindustrial, there is nothing quite as valuable as the guidance of a trusted, local source to help make sense of the ever-changing world of drones. That’s where partners like Bembras Agro come in. After Ipiranga encountered lackluster results with three other drone solutions, they called on the expertise of Bembras, and finally discovered DroneDeploy.

Bembras, a DroneDeploy partner in Brazil, provides their customers with a best-in-class solution that includes DroneDeploy, DJI drones, custom training, insurance, and consulting services. They work closely with some of the country’s largest sugarcane mills, as well as producers of other crops, to educate them about the benefits of drones and help them build out their drone programs. DroneDeploy has worked closely with Bembras to empower Brazilian enterprises in the region to launch and scale out their UAV programs.

“Among all the software we studied, DroneDeploy stood out as the one with better results in a broad spectrum of localities, a wide range of tools, higher accuracy, and an ability to adjust to our needs.” — Johann Coelho, Bembras Agro Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer

Where to Learn More

Ipiranga used Ground Control Points (GCPs) to create a survey-grade map. Using GCPs just got a whole lot easier with DroneDeploy’s new self-serve GCP workflow. Learn more about it here.

Thinking about integrating drones into your enterprise workflow? Learn more about DroneDeploy’s enterprise solution.

Ready to hang up your drone at the end of the harvest? We suggest reconsidering. Here are four ways to harness the power of drones all year long.

If you’re in Brazil and interested in speaking with a member of the Bembras Agro team, you can get in contact here.

Get Started with Drone Deploy

Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.

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