Farm Machinery for Cane Production to Solve Economic Social and Environmental Sustainability Problem
Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center , Department of Agriculture

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
The practices of burnt canes in Thailand have escalated since 1993/94 from 5% of burnt canes delivered to mills. Since then over 50% of burnt canes are experienced in every crushing year. It is estimated over 1.0 millions hectare sugarcane planted areas, generating over 8.6 million tonnes of sugarcane trash. According to our past experiences over the last decade, around 70% of those sugarcane estates have been burnt to speed up the harvesting period in order to meet a short 120 day widow period of each season. As a result, it is fair to conclude that more than 4,000 million kilogram carbon dioxide as well as 75 million kilogram nitrogen has been release to the world atmosphere annually. Furthermore, toxic dust and small polluted particles of a minimum of 10 million kilograms up to 100 million kilograms are also contaminated our atmosphere. The burning practices consist of 3 stages: 1.1. Pre-harvesting burning: The major incentives of doing so could be identified as scarcity of harvesting crews as well as escalating labor costs. Particularly, lodged canes become a real obstacle for fresh harvesting by harvesting crews. Almost all of harvesting crews tend to avoid harvesting fresh canes. They could make substantially more money from harvesting burnt canes than harvesting fresh canes. All of those crews are earning daily for living. The impacts from burning result in losing cane weights as well as jeopardizing cane quality. As a result, soil fertility depletion would lead to more susceptible for drought tolerating ability of sugarcane. Consequently and inevitably, the costs of ratoon maintenance would be escalated. In addition, the ecology system has been distorted, resulting widely in outbreaks of cane pests, due to natural predators being killed from burning practices. 1.2. Post-harvesting burning practices: In the case of fresh harvesting, substantial cane leaves are left over on the field. Growers burn those cane leaves again because of fear of fire when new ratoon shoots grow. Such fires would be seriously harmful to those young shoots. Furthermore, such left over leaves would block furrow irrigation as well as the difficulty in applying fertilizer on those ratoon stools, due to no appropriate machines being available in Thailand to apply fertilizer beneath those covered cane leaves. The impacts of burning after harvesting include some early shoots death, stunning of survived canes, diminishing of soil quality, soil compaction leading to poor infiltration of water. It is evident that more cane grubs in the case of burnt canes than green blanket practices. In addition, weed control becomes more serious in the case of burning practices, due to no covered materials suppressing weed emergence. As a result, more fertilizer and water is required, definitely leading to reducing the number of ratoons and ultimately resulting in the higher cost of cane production. 1.3. Burning prior to land preparation: The incentive of burning prior to soil preparation is to avoid the slippage of farm tractors running on the cane leaves. In addition, 3 disc ploughs could not work properly under such conditions. The impact of burning prior to soil preparation inevitably leads to loss of organic matters as well as essential nutrients from those composted leaves. Furthermore, it could worsen the environment, in turn, contamination of fly ash to nearby neighboring dwellings. Most accidents could happen in smoky situations, which greatly reduce visible distances.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Such persistent impacts could be harmful to efforts of the establishment of sustainability of the Thai sugar industry. Introducing suitable machinery, equipment and tools could ease such problems. The machines available in developed countries are too big to fit in small-plot cane estates in Thailand. Furthermore, the available equipment and tools are too expensive for Thai growers to afford. As a result, the Agriculture Department of Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative has taken the initiative in producing smaller equipment to match with existing small farm tractors in Thailand. Soon after such equipment is available to the majority of growers, the burning practices would be drastically reduced. The pollution from burning practices of sugarcane production in Thailand badly impacts people living in areas. Not only contamination of fly ash to dwellings, household stuff, and tourist attraction spots, but also unexpected outbreak of fires from other burning sugarcane estates. The suitable and needed equipment to solve or minimize the burning practices is to develop equipment to incorporate cane trash. Currently, offset disc cultivators in Western countries are too expensive, approximately 15,000 US $ per set. Admittedly, small and medium growers in Thailand are not able to own one. Furthermore, imported cane harvesters are also expensive, over US $ 360,000 ; they could not work efficiently in small plots of sugarcane estates. As a result, the harvesting cost per ton turns out much higher than crew harvesting. As a result, the Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center, Office of Agricultural Research and Development Region 5., Department of Agriculture, Thailand has undertaken initiative research to find out the real root causes of burning practices of the entire process of sugarcane production by establishing objectives of such innovation to come up with affordable equipment for small and medium growers as well as being user friendly, allowing growers to maintain equipment by themselves. Soon after the prototype equipment has successfully introduced, we envisage private entrepreneurs could produce as the agricultural equipment suppliers. There would not have any intellectual property fee charged from the researchers or research organizations. In doing so, it would allow entrepreneurs could keep their production lower than the case of bearing intellectual property fees. Simultaneously, technology transfers to growers and sugar mills to be aware of the adverse impacts of burning practices in sugarcane estates by allowing growers to affordably access suitable equipment. The appropriate scheme should start with allowance from sugar mills for growers to acquire such equipment. One good example, Mitr Phol group has made funds available for selected growers to acquire farm tractors with the mandatory condition of having cane trash incorporated equipment. The purpose of setting such conditions is to enforce growers not to burn trash prior to soil preparation in order to keep as many organic matters as possible. In turn, higher drought resistant of sugarcane under burning-free conditions could be expected, especially for those rainfed sugarcane estates.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Years before the burning sugarcane era, growers could not access appropriate technology nor suitable equipment at the affordable prices for their entire operations of sugarcane operations. As a result, the Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center, Department of Agriculture has taken an initiative and innovative mission to develop prototype equipment that more suitable for those small and medium sugarcane estates with the objective of reducing or eradicating of burning sugarcane practices. To bridge the gap of understanding and capacity building, we have conducted several workshops and extended such knowledge and technology via sugar mills in financially supporting growers to acquire equipment from suppliers who manufacturing those equipment by adopting prototype equipment without paying loyalty fees.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
In order to achieve the set objectives of sustainably solving the problems derived from burning canes, we have integrated all concerned sectors consisting of public sector, private sector and growers to line out strategies and steps of implementation as follows: 4.1. Working closely with capable manufacturers in order to develop a full series of equipment to avoid burning cane trash prior to soil preparation called “cane trash incorporator” in order to solve the burning cane trash prior to soil preparation. In addition, the effective equipment for ratoon maintenance called “ratoon cane inter-row trash incorporator” in order to incorporate excess cane trash beneath ground, setting preventive conditions on fire setting. The third equipment is for operations of pre-harvesting sugarcanes. This equipment may be the most difficult step, due to requiring highly efficient and powerful engines. However, an available equipment called “cane trash extractor” to de-trash those old leaves prior to harvesting. In do so, it would minimize the efforts of harvesting crews in harvesting processes, due to less leaves left during harvesting operations. Ultimately, a whole-stick cane harvester would be the most suitable solution for small and medium cane estates, which have narrow row spacing of 1.3 m or less than 1.5 m, in Thailand and AEC countries. Remarkably, those existing chopped cane harvesters are suitable for wide spacing estates, 1.5 m or wider. 4.2. In case of intellectual property right concerned, especially from the Government agencies, we will establish a working relationship to get a full sharing such rights with the capable and selected manufacturers to be transferred such technologies without paying such intellectual or any fees. Working closely with private sectors who have technical and financial capacities in manufacturing such equipment to supply mass markets. In turn, persistent burning sugarcane practices would be eradicated or substantially reduced. Consequently, sugar millers would be happy to introduce and support growers to acquire the newly existed equipment. Ultimately, a series of technology transfer or “action training sessions” or “workshop implementation sessions” must be proved to growers. It is believed that whatever equipment could help them to carry out their work more effectively and efficiently, they would widely accept soon after providing guaranteed results. 4.3. Campaigning the right attitude of not burning sugarcane could be done through several means through proper education, learning processes, and public relations as well as demonstrations of successes among growers who adopt such technology and equipment. Once growers are fully convinced of those effectiveness and efficiency, they would jump into the league easily.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Stakeholders involved the entire chain of “avoid burning sugarcane” would be fully beneficial. 5.1 Government aim or policy is to be good global citizen in substantially reducing global warming. 5.2 Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center, Department of Agriculture as the implementer of the Government policy to carry out the policy into actions at growers’ level. 5.3 Sugar mills could gain benefits from fresh canes delivered to mills at a better quality as well as a key promoter of reducing global warming 5.4 Sugarcane growers, regardless of the size of estates, enjoy cleaner technology and are more effective and efficient in cost control from yield improving and quality enhancement from fresh harvesting cane. 5.5 Equipment manufacturers enjoy in larger markets. 5.6 Financial institutions enjoy lower credit risks, due to growers’ earning substantially improved. 5.7 People living nearby sugarcane estates have better quality of life, not facing pollution caused from burning practices 5.8 Society at large gains a cleaner environment
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The resources contributed in developing the prototype equipment are from 12 consecutive annual budgets of the Department of Agriculture, Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperative of Thailand, amounting over US $ 30,000. All human resources at this stage are officers of Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center. Such budgets have been spent in various means such as training our technicians prior to establishing networking capacity with cane growers, hundreds of extension exercises in reducing and eventually stopping burning cane both prior to or after harvesting. In addition, new innovative equipment has been introduced to growers soon after the Department endorsing the appropriateness of each machine. As a normal practice, the training sessions have been delivered in every quarter of the said 12 year period. The prototype equipment consists of the following items. 6.1. Cane trash incorporator 6.2. Ratoon Cane Inter-row Trash Incorporator 6.3. Sugarcane trash extractor

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The outputs and achievements could be summarized as follows: 7.1. Having most suitable and affordable technology in reducing or eradicating of burning sugarcane for Thailand and AEC countries. For example, Udon Thani growers have own-made cane trash incorporator by adopting the transferred technology. 7.2. Manufacturers of agricultural equipment have adopted such technology in producing and selling over 1,000 sets to growers, able to reducing burning areas over sixteen thousand of hectares of sugarcane estates. Unfortunately, we could not compile the precise numbers of such equipment produced and sold in the past years. The contribution from those equipment could save around 16,000 hectares of cane estates from burning. Such contribution could not eradiate burning practices, but could conservatively estimate of 137,500 tonnes fresh leaves returning to grounds. It should be noted that more and more equipment has been gradually added annually. Due to growers insufficient funds in investing such pricy equipment, they have to take several years in accumulating sufficient financing in acquiring equipment. 7.3. Growers are able to increase green harvesting from 28.1 million tons in 1983/84 to 37.9 million tons in 2013/14 even amid labor shortages during recent years. It is evident that contributions from all stakeholders are paying off. 7.4. The website of the Thai sugar industry is called The website of the Thai sugar industry called consistently publishes the outcomes of researches from the Department of Agriculture in persistently dealing with burning sugarcane practices. Annually, several viewers could benefit in accessing to the website.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
In monitoring number of equipment used for fresh harvesting cane and volume of fresh canes delivered to sugar mills show a promising sign in gradually increasing “fresh harvested canes”. The fresh cane-harvesting ratio could not be a speedy pace, due to insufficient financial supporting in acquiring new equipment even the lower price of Thai made equipment. Furthermore, in a favorable climatic condition or in a good year, the burning is hardly avoided due to insufficient harvesting crews to cope with substantially increasing volumes. If no trash incorporater available, cane trash takes several months in decoposting; then growers could not prepare soil for new planting. There is no other alternative for growers who need to plant new cane right away. Then the only choice for them is to burn cane trashes.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The burning practices have escalated over years, due to shortages of harvesting crews and insufficient equipment incorporation cane trash beneath soil prior to soil preparation. As a result, the Department of Agriculture has taken the initiative in developing cheaper equipment to growers in encountering the persistent burning issues. The Thai made equipment selling prices are only 1/8 to 1/10 of imported ones. The equipment, namely cane trash incorporator, is not sophisticated; thus growers could be able to make for their own uses. Alternatively, they could acquire from manufacturers or agricultural suppliers for reasonable prices. Currently, growers own more than 1,000 sets of cane trash incorporators. Burning trashes is the easiest and least cost practice. In contrast, incorporting trashes by suitable equipment would consume more time in convincing growers. It should be noted that ratoon cane inter-row trash incorporators are more complex than cane trash incorporator equipment. As a result, this equipment price is higher than cane trash incorporator but is still by far cheaper than imported ones. Alternatively, growers those could not afford to have cane trash incorporators not ratoon cane inter-row trash incorporators could go for sugarcane trash extractor prior to harvesting to facilitate green harvesting easier or reducing harvesting costs. Most importantly, whole-stick cane harvesters at the price of 25% of imported harvesters are on demand for small and medium sugarcane estates, which represents over 90% of total sugarcane estates in Thailand and in other AEC countries. It should be noted that burning practices could be charged as a criminal case. In reality, the law enforcement could not be done properly, due to the critical mass being so large; and there is no sensible way out for those growers and millers.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
After persistently campaigns over years, bunt cane has been reduced 1.6%, which is still relative low; but such actions reduce carbon dioxide up to 0.745 million kg. carbon as well as reducing pollution dusts in the air. When growers could access to efficient harvesters and other proper equipment helping them avoid burning cane trash. The increasing rate of equipment acquired would be a negative correlation to burning cane and cane trash. It is fair to conclude that whenever growers could afford reasonable prices of equipment the burning activities should be reduced as low as 50% within the next 5 years. Thus, growers would realized benefits from keeping more organic matters to soil in order to enrich soil condition. In summary, key benefits resulting from this initiative include: 10.1. Suitable prototype equipment in dealing with burning cane practices for Thai and AEC growers. The equipment is matched with existing farm tractors in Thailand and AEC countries. In addition, the equipment is not too complex, allowing low maintenance and easy to fix by users. More importantly, most growers could afford to have it. 10.2. Manufacturers enjoy the sizable potential markets of the equipment. Such attractiveness encourages manufacturers to enter into this market segment. 10.3. Cane growers acquire more than 1,000 sets of cane trash incorporators. Under current situation without any intervention from Government, and other influential parties such as millers, financial institutions, around 100 sets of cane trash incorporators could be added every year. Other higher price equipment would eventually deployed to growers when they have sufficient funds. The consequence of having such equipment would guarantee mutual benefits arising for all direct and indirect concerned parties, including growers, millers, manufacturers, financial institutions, and the public at large.The immediate results from using the mentioned equipment for growers include improving of water infiltration rate, which leads to directly stimulate root branching healthily; then growers could expect higher level of drought tolerant. In addition, such healthy canes would have higher immunity toward pests and diseases. Lastly, ratooning ability of sugarcane could be more healthier and more ratoon cycles expected. In summary, the Thai sugar industry would enjoy sufficient and sustainable sugarcane security for milling in each season. Such security has been derived from growers profitability and being able to keep more ratoons in order to minimize their cost of sugarcane production per ton.Equipment manufacturers have impressive incentives in coping with such huge market potentials not only in Thailand but also AEC countries.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The effective model in extending such campaign should harness all concerned stakeholders, especially those sugar mills who, in turn, typically act like growers’ financiers. Those sugar mills either directly lend or as a guarantor to financial institutions to finance those acquired equipment. Growers will periodically repay such borrowing by deducting from an agreed amount from sugarcane delivered to the mill. Current sugar mills capacities are by far greater than sugarcane supply. In turn, sugarcane production yields tend to decrease, due to depletion of soil partly resulted from burning operations. When sugar mills taking a leading role in campaigning on green harvest canes would be definitely effective. The Department of Agricultural Extension, Land Development Department, Cooperative Promotion Department, and Agricultural Land Reform Office have tried to establish an effective model in order to reduce all burning operations, and incorporating cane trash in sugarcane estates. In doing so, professional groups would do the job like a contactor in helping those growers who could not afford to have their own equipment. It is evident that burning practices create a string of problems not only to growers, millers, and creditors, but also to the public at large. To solve the issues of burning practices is an extremely complex job. All stakeholders have to work hand-in-hand toward the aim of stopping burning for the benefit of everyone. Such fair distribution of wealth from stopping burning must be fairly distributed to all stakeholders. After taking Thai and AEC sugarcane estate landscape into consideration, we propose the appropriate farm tractors and the attached equipment as follow. 11.1 Farm tractors should be a medium size such as 100 – 135 horsepower to cope with the existing majority sugarcane estate plot size. 11.2 With an exception for lager cane estates, say over a 200-hectare plot. The equipment and farm tractors must be larger. 11.3 Equipment prices should be reasonably affordable. 11.4 The designs should be simple but being a heavy-duty type. Low maintenance associated to allow growers able to cope with day-to-day maintenance and fixing. 11.5 Both public and private sectors should take initiative in developing such suitable and efficient equipment to Thai and AEC sugar industries.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Research works in the past years seem to be independently isolated among stakeholders. The “trade secret” mentality has been widely spread out among researchers, millers, growers, and suppliers. As a result, no real issues could be reasonably overcome. In the past few years, integrating all stakeholders to jointly work together in order to move toward the same goals and directions does provide much better results in dealing with the issues of burning sugarcane. The Department of Agriculture has taken initiative in development suitable equipment as a prototype, then transfer such technology to manufacturers without loyalty fees. Simultaneously, millers as guarantors to financial institutions to provide credit facilities to growers to acquire the equipment have been working out smoothly. Millers could reasonably expect a sustainable sugarcane security to mills. Ultimately, growers enjoying higher yield of sugarcane could repay their debts much more quickly .Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center, Office of Agricultural Research and Development Region 5., Department of Agriculture, Thailand has consistently taken initiative and researches to growers who could not access to cane harvesters. One effective measure is detaching cane leaves by innovative equipment attached to small farm tractors in detaching prior to harvesting. As a result, the speed of fresh cut by crews are significantly improved.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Suphan Buri Agricultural Research and Development Center , Department of Agriculture
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Mr.Artasit Boontham
Title:   chief research project  
Telephone/ Fax:   +(66)35 551543/ +(66)35 551433
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   159 Tambon Chorakhe Sam Phan
Postal Code:   72160
City:   U-thong District
State/Province:   Suphan Buri

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