Aerial images take 'flight' in sugarcane research

With the use of unmanned aerial equipment, better known as drones, and a multispectral camera, Cenicaña will have images that complement the satellite and spectral information of the crop in the region.

Since last April, a drone equipped with a small camera is responsible for taking low-level photos of fields planted with sugarcane in the region. 

Its mission is to capture more detailed images than the satellites and that offer greater facilities to analyze the spectral data that are taken in the field with equipment that measures the reflectance of sugarcane plants.  

The objective is to complement the information collected by satellites and field spectrometers, which despite its value is still limited for the research work on the genetic improvement of sugarcane and agronomic management of the crop.

Why limited? Because not always when the satellite passes through our region there are ideal conditions (few clouds) to capture images and because they are medium resolution and on a global scale, that is, they only serve to make regional analyzes. Likewise, the spectral data taken in the field that allow the estimation of biophysical and physiological characteristics of the crop are limited by the environment, the quality of the equipment or the methodologies implemented.  

According to César Edwin García, remote sensing analyst at Cenicaña, with unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) adapted with multispectral cameras, the energy reflected from vegetation, soil and water can be captured in images in different regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, which allows to obtain more precise vegetation indices.

In this way, Cenicaña expects to advance in nitrogen deficiency and weed identification maps for the application of fertilizers with varied rates or herbicides; in models of early prediction of productivity and models of estimation of biophysical variables (chlorophyll, leaf area index and height), which are key to knowing the conditions in which a crop develops, its response to extreme situations such as weather or a pest , and establish management plans. 

This new information, added to the spectral and satellite data with which Cenicaña has been working for more than fifteen years and the integration of technologies such as global positioning systems (GNSS) and Geographic information systems (GIS), supports not only research but the performance of work with a specific agriculture approach per site (AEPS®), and the new plans of the sector with precision agriculture (AP).

Drone flight over Geomatics experiment in a lot of the experimental station of San Antonio de los Caballeros.
Field capture with spectrometer.
Landsat satellite image of August 19, 2014 (true color).

Technical contributions to the PA in the sector

Cenicaña currently leads the creation of an RTK network to provide the signal correction service of the global satellite navigation system to precision agriculture equipment in the sector and thus execute the work more efficiently and accurately.

According to Edwin Erazo, precision agriculture analyst at the Center, an RTK network offers precision and accuracy in the geographic positioning of receivers in the field in real time, provides greater coverage, avoids establishing control points for the mooring of cartography, allows repeatability year After year, it improves connectivity with AP equipment and enables its interconnectivity with different equipment brands. 

As a complement to this project, Cenicaña is in the process of signing an inter-institutional agreement with the Colombian Geological Service (SGC) to integrate the GNSS stations of the GeoRED project into the RTK network project. The main objective of GeoRED is to monitor the movements of tectonic plates throughout the country based on GNSS technology. 

Currently, the SGC has installed two stations in the north of the Cauca River Valley and one in the Cenicaña experimental station, which will serve to densify the GNSS RTK signal in the region.

To consult

Book: Principles and applications of remote perception in the cultivation of sugarcane in Colombia.
Authors: Paulo José Murillo Sandoval and Javier Alí Carbonell González.
Available on:

Information letter
3 Year / 1 Number / July of 2015

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