Sugar Cane Tractor-Towed Cutter: Innovation to Help Thai Farmers Solve Burned Sugar Cane Problems

“Burned sugar cane” is a problem that local farm owners have been facing until recently

It is normally caused by setting a fire in an agricultural area, apart from labor shortage. Moreover, since sugar cane extraction at a sugar refinery takes only 4 months (from December to March), many farm owners opt to burning their farm before harvest the crop, thus resulting in the current problem of PM. 2.5 smog. To solve the problem, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL) invented a new sugar cane tractor-towed cutter.

The innovation was launched on the Thai National Innovator Day between 2 and 6 February 2020 at BITEC Bang Na in Bangkok. Named, Palee Zero PM1, the cutter was designed by Asst. Prof. Dr. Nattawoot Depaiwa, a lecturer of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, KMITL, and a committee member of Thai Society of Mechanical Engineers (TSME). He took a year to complete the invention which subsequently received high recognition from both public and private sectors. It will be soon under production.

“Sugar cane harvesting usually requires as many people as 60% and the usual problem includes burning a farm before harvest. Although this method facilitates those working in the farm, it causes environmental problems and lessen the amount of sugar in each cane. Moreover, in some parts of Thailand, labor shortage is frequent. Currently, the Thai government is announcing a measure to restrict, monitor and safeguard burning of sugar cane farms before cutting. This measure also causes problems on production management processes among local farm owners”, said Asst. Prof. Dr. Nattawoot., Faculty of Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering, King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang

The Palee Zero PM1 is a sugar cane cutter which manages to help sugar cane cutting in the complete 4 processes, namely leaf crushing, base cutting, truncating and transporting finished products. Its function is better than any other sugar cane cutters on sales right now as it is able to cut as many as 100 tons of sugar cane per day. Also, it is easy to control thanks to the new energy resource from the PTO axle installed in the towed tractor, so the newly invented sugar cane cutter is easy to assemble and requires only a person to control.

Using the Palee Zero PM1 enables farm owners to cut the base of sugar cane and truncate it easily according to the area condition. Crushed leaves of sugar cane can be used to cover stubbles, keeping the soil sufficiently damp for the next harvest season. In addition, sugar cane cultivated by the cutter can be used to grow the new one as the cane’s node is not damaged. Since the price of the innovation is lower than other sugar cane cutters (even those imported from other countries), its access is highly possible.

The new sugar cane cutter can solve current problems that Thai farm owners are facing, particularly in terms of low capital costs, time-saving, less manpower, harvesting efficiency and air pollution reduction. At present, the Thai government is supporting the procurement of 4,000 sugar cane cutters, either old or new ones, with a budget of 6 billion Baht, and the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives (BAAC) is offering interest loan as low as 2% for 8 years to Thai farmers. Consequently, burning sugar cane farm is expected to come to an end by 2022.

After the launch of the new sugar cane cutter, a lot of companies would like to be partners to introduce it to Thai sugar industry, especially the Mitr Phol Group which already used it in its own farm in Chaiyaphum. As a result, the company will increase the number of the sugar cane cutters soon apart from many local Thai farmers interested in using this one.

Asst. Prof. Dr. Nattawoot added that he would register his invention for Thai innovation records with cooperation of a representative company that will introduce it to industrial sectors of the country. Doing so will encourage governmental procurement to become a tool for research and development promotion of local innovations in the future.

It is expected that, very soon, Thailand will be able to deal with the PM 2.5 smog. To succeed this, the country needs development of effective innovations and technology able to solve the aforementioned problem as well as getting rid of sugar cane leaves before transporting sugar cane for extraction at a refinery apart from reducing labor costs, saving time and reasonably-priced machines accessible for farm owners. The Palee Zero PM1 is therefore another invention highly useful for sugar cane farming in Thailand.