The processes that occur before the arrival of harvested sugarcane at the sugar mill represent 70% of the production costs of ethanol from sugarcane. Since CTBE is a national laboratory that aims at contributing to maintain the Brazilian leadership in the production of this fuel, the agricultural obstacles need to be part of the research agenda. An agenda which embraces the ethanol producers, the industry, and the academic world in the quest for innovations and technological improvements that focus on the competitiveness and sustainability of the sugarcane sector.
The implementation of the low impact Mechanization program for the no-till farming of sugarcane is being carried out with this in mind. The proposal of this project is based on three mainstays: the enablement of the no-till farming system (with the control of traffic) in the cane fields, precision farming and information technology (IT). The first idea of the researchers in this area of the Center is to create a sustainable model of sugarcane planting and harvesting that reduces costs and conserves soil and water with a better utilization of sugarcane straw.
The first initiative of CTBE along these lines is the development of a Controlled Traffic Structure (ETC), a fundamental tool so that the full no-till farming (without tillage) is carried out. This machine will execute all the operations involved from the planting to the harvesting of the sugarcane, with a minimum contact between tires and plants. This is possible because the wheels of the equipment run along permanent tracks (spaced 12m from each other), which are previously defined and georreferenced. This reduces the traffic of agricultural implements in the cane fields from 60% (current mechanization) to less than 10% of the planted area.
Another advantage of the no-till farming system, promoted by the low impact mechanization (MBI) of the Center, is the preservation of the trash coverage on the soil after the harvesting of the sugarcane (without previous burning). Such conditions will enable gains in productivity and increase the longevity of the ratoon, thanks to the improvement of the physical structure and of the biochemical properties of the soil. Reduction of losses of nutrient and of soil water will also occur through the use of this system.
As soon as the ETC begins operating, the CTBE team and their partners will move on to analyze the agronomic impacts of the MBI on the plant and on the soil. This will emerge within the precision agriculture scheme, with the help of IT. This data will enable producers to identify possible optimizations of process which lead to cost reduction and increase in productivity within a more sustainable horizon than is obtained in the current technological scenario.