Assistant Professor Dr. Kiattisak Sangpradit, agricultural engineering researcher at Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi, revealed that Thailand is the second largest sugar exporter in the world after Brazil. However, the cost of sugar production in Thailand is witnessing a rising trend because sugar cane is a product under WTO covenant on taxes. Therefore, Thailand needs to increase its sugar cane and sugar production efficiency, and fertilizers will play a key role in this improvement. In reality, Thai farmers manually spread fertilizers around the sugar cane plants and use constant rates of fertilizer in every area, making hardly possible to adjust fertilizer volumes. Currently, researchers are attempting to address the issue by developing a fertilizer spreader attached to walking tractors, with fertilizer feeders on three locations on the gear and investigating the most efficient fertilizer spreading technique to help farmers. In Germany, a theory of fertilizer ratio adjustment has been applied to oil palm farms, while Malaysia has applied an RFID-based method to its agriculture.
Applying these practices, the research team aims to introduce high-accuracy technology to Thai agriculture, specifically to fertilizer application. An image processing system is used to calculate the quantity based on the green percentage of the plant. The quantitative data is then analyzed and developed into a system that assists processing and regulates the volume of sugar cane fertilizer. This helps reduce fertilizer waste and, in turn, the cost of sugar cane production. Therefore, the researcher has designed and developed a high-accuracy fertilizer applicator for sugar cane using the image processing technique.
The high-accuracy fertilizer spreader based on image processing is a product of applying agricultural engineering, control engineering, mechanical engineering, and photography. This innovative fertilizer applicator consists of a chisel plowing set, a fertilizer spreader set, a fertilizer regulator set, a camera, and a processor. The camera captures the shape of the plant and transmits the image to the processing computer. The processor then sends the data to the fertilizer regulator that controls the volume of fertilizer for each plant or each specific area. The camera is attached to the front of the tractor, the fertilizer spreader set and the regulator at the back, while the processor is in the tractor so that the driver can see it and work with ease.
Mr. Suriya Worawong, a graduate student at the Faculty of Engineering, Rajamangala University of Technology Thanyaburi and a researcher assistant, said that this research focuses on improving the accuracy of fertilizer application by using an image processing technique. The volume of fertilizer will be based on the actual size of the plants, with smaller plants getting more fertilizers than larger ones. That is to say, fertilizer volumes will depend on the demand of the plants. The image taken will be processed to calculate the size of the plants, after which the processing algorithm, developed and tested, will regulate the fertilizer quantity. In addition, the fertilizer spreader is equipped with the granular fertilizer regulator which is controlled by a hydraulic system in order to spread the suitable number of fertilizer granules. More importantly, the high-accuracy fertilizer applicator with image processing can be installed to the tractors that farmers are already using so that it can process images and control suitable volumes of fertilizers for sugar cane at different times. This will help reduce losses and costs in raw sugar cane production.
Although granular fertilizers are essential and widely used, the efficiency in applying them could be improved as it is often not aligned with the demand of the plants. In addition, because each area has a different mineral distribution, fertilizer application needs to be more accurate. In anticipation of the demand for this technology for commercial purposes, the researcher team has joined hands with private companies in Thailand to develop this innovation and introduce it to the market. For more information about the innovation, please contact Assistant Professor Dr. Kiattisak Sangpradit.
This fertilizer spreader has won a gold medal and special prize at INOVA BEST CIVIL ENGINEERING INVENTION and INOVA-BUDI UZOR 2017 42nd International Invention Show in Osijek, Croatia.