Harvesting is a key stage in the sugarcane agroindustrial process. Its objective is to collect the cane available in the field with minimal losses and high efficiency, and to guarantee its timely and sufficient supply to the factory in the shortest possible time between harvest and milling, with low levels of foreign matter (especially leaves, buds and soil). ) and at the lowest cost, trying throughout the process to minimize its impact on the soil, the crop and the environment, all of which translates into a high quality product at competitive prices. Its impact on production costs is highly significant, since any variation that occurs at this stage will have a great impact –positive or negative– on the profitability of the crop. It is fully understood, then, why the goal of every sugar mill is to provide cane to the factory under the stipulated quantity and quality conditions, in the agreed times and with the best use of the resources used (Amú, 2010).

The harvest of sugar cane and its transportation to the factory for the production of sugar, fuel alcohol and electrical energy involve the scheduling of the cutting, the collection of the cane and its delivery to the mill yards with the required quality characteristics.

The proper management of the activities required by the harvest is essential in generating value for the grower and the manufacturer. The harvest area is divided into three “areas”: cutting, elk and transportation, with resources and a methodology defined for each one (Isaacs et al., 2009).

Sugarcane harvesting has evolved from manual cutting and mowing to semi-mechanized operation (manual cutting and mechanized mowing) and fully mechanized system. Currently, commercial crops are harvested using the last two systems: 26% semi-mechanized and 74% fully mechanical. Semi-mechanized harvesting makes it possible to constantly supply sugar cane to the factory in sufficient quantity, with low content of foreign matter; but in terms of the amount of cane transported per trip, its performance is low. The mechanized system, on the contrary, results in a significantly higher percentage of cane transported per trip, with less time spent in the field and uses lighter equipment for transshipment, but its implementation requires introducing costly adaptations both in the field and in the factory (Torres, Villegas, Durán and Cruz Valderrama, 2009).

Colombia's sugar mills work twenty-four hours a day throughout the year, and therefore must have a permanent supply of sugar cane, which comes from crops planted in different sites located at a wide range of distance (between 2 km and 100 km) from the factory.

Now, the cane can be cut manually or mechanically. The manual cutting is carried out by a worker (the cutter) with a machete (the pacora or Australian curved machete), with which he detaches the cane stems at ground level, de-crops them (removes the top part of the cane) and arranges them. in bundles (the 'chorra') that are placed perpendicularly along the furrows. This operation requires great skill from the person in charge, since a poor cut translates into losses of cane and sugar, results in poor quality juice and hinders the factory operation, since it forces more time than expected to remove elements other than the cane. For mechanized cutting, special equipment is used (the harvester) that enters the field and cuts the cane into pieces between the furrows and deposits them directly in the wagons (Amú, 2010).


About the authors

Amú Caicedo, LG

Estrada Bedón, A.

Agroindustrial Engineer with a Master's Degree in Engineering with an emphasis in Industrial Engineering. He graduated in 2004 from the National University of Colombia, Palmira campus, and in 2009 from the Universidad del Valle, Cali campus.

Abbey, LA

Industrial Engineer, Autonomous University of the West Cali, Specialist in Productivity and Production Control. 30 years of experience in research, operation, development, management and training in sugarcane harvesting systems using semi-mechanized systems and mechanical harvesters.

Galeano Patiño, SA

Agroindustrial Engineer graduated from the Universidad San Buenaventura Cali (2006), with an MBA from ISEAD Business School in Madrid, Spain (2012).

Chica Ramirez HA

Agricultural Engineer from the University of Caldas, Master in Mathematics from the Technological University of Pereira and candidate for Doctor of Engineering from the University of Valle.

Tarapues Ipial, HB

Mechanical Engineer in 2019 from the Universidad del Valle, Colombia. In 2023, at the same institution, he is a candidate to obtain the degree of Master of Engineering with an emphasis on Mechanical Engineering.

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