HEA BLO precision-agriculture-increase-productivity

How precision agriculture helps increase productivity

A Mexican drone company helped a banana farm increase their productivity by 30% using precision agriculture techniques and Pix4Dfields

Bananas are the world’s favorite fruit. They are the most commonly traded fruit and the fifth most traded agricultural product. Worldwide banana exports totaled an estimated US$13.6 billion in 20181.

Banana crops in Mexico
The banana plant is called a 'banana tree', but it's technically herb as the stem doesn’t contain true woody tissue2

There are over a thousand different varieties of bananas growing around the world. Some are sweet, like the Cavendish banana, which is the most common and widely exported variety, accounting for half the bananas on supermarket shelves.

But monocropping comes with risks, and the ubiquitous banana is under threat. Currently, a new outbreak of Panama disease caused by the strain Tropical Race 4 (TR4) threatens the production of today's most popular banana, Cavendish.

What’s the worst that could happen? The collapse of the Big Mike banana

The world has weathered banana pandemics in the past. Until the 1950s, the dominant banana variety was the Big Mike (Gros Michel). It was grown in a similar way to today’s Cavendish: monocropped over large areas. Over time, monocropping reduces soil quality, leaving plants more vulnerable to infection.

The Big Mike was uniquely susceptible to Panama disease (Fusarium wilt), which devastated the variety - and the livelihoods of the farmers who grew it. Between 1940 and 1960, 30,000 hectares of a plantation in the Ulua Valley of Honduras were completely destroyed3 - a story, which was repeated again and again around the world, and without rapid action, it could be seen again with the Cavendish banana.

Stressed crops = reduced production

Latin America and the Caribbean constitute the world’s most important exporting region for bananas, playing a vital role in the global fruit supply.

In Mexico, the highest production is found in the south-southeast region of the country, which has the right climate, a great amount of water and the right land properties for banana production. The region is difficult to access - especially compared to other regions that grow bananas - as the area is remote and rugged.


Banana crops in Teapa, Tabasco, México
Banana plants in Teapa, Tabasco, México

“If it’s difficult to access crops, there is a bigger chance of missing an issue in the initial stages where preventive actions can still be made. Using drones for scouting and software for crop analysis makes the monitoring workflow more efficient and easier,” says Álvaro Ruiz, COO, CoatzaDrone.

Additionally, in banana production, the main concern is if the plant gets stressed due to a lack of water. The fruit quality decreases with greater stress, resulting in a decrease in sugar content (measured by degrees Brix).

What is the Brix fruit level?

Degrees Brix, usually shortened to "Brix", is a scale of measurement for soluble solids in a liquid. In the juices of fruits and vegetables, soluble solids are mostly sugars, and the Brix measurement approximates the sugar content of a sample. A higher Brix level means higher sugar and a better flavor. Bananas will be at their best, in terms of sweetness, when they reach 16 degrees Brix.

Another problem with banana cultivation is the type of soil. Bananas are typically grown in wetland gleysol, characterized by clayey texture and excess humidity. Along with high temperatures, these conditions promote pathogen generation (both fungi and bacteria). Diseases like Black Sigatoka, together with this specific soil type can cause a decrease in the leaf area and a resulting reduction of active photosynthetic area. This affects the number of flowers, number, and weight of hands (banana clusters), resulting in the product reduction overall.


Palm tree affected by Black Sigatoka disease
Example of an affected plant by Black Sigatoka, source: CIAT

For the fruit to be suitable for export, crop-specific criteria need to be met.

The usual solution is to increase the inputs like water and nutrients - all of which come at a cost. CoatzaDrone and Advan México turned to drone mapping and implemented precision agriculture techniques to improve banana production, with a lower price tag.

Monitoring banana crops with precision agriculture

“With the maps created in Pix4Dfields, we can also identify the places where these problems occur and make targeted decisions to level or make drains, or apply more fungicide or pesticide,” says Esteban Chavez Cocom, Agronomist Engineer, Advan México.

Project details: saving the world’s favorite fruit

LocationTeapa, Tabasco, México
CompaniesCoatzaDrone
Advan México
HardwareDJI Phantom 4 Pro
Parrot Sequoia camera
SoftwarePix4Dfields
Images1,770 multispectral
885 RGB
Area20.6 ha
Processing time<30 minutes
OutputsOrthomosaic, index map
Flight height60 meters
Flight time35 mins approx 2 flights
Image sizeRGB: 1.4 cm/pix
Multispectral: 5.6 cm/pix
DJI Phantom 4 Pro mounted with the Parrot Sequoia camera mapping banana crops
The CoatzaDrone team captured and processed RGB and multispectral images flying the DJI Phantom 4 Pro mounted with the Parrot Sequoia camera

Images were processed in Pix4Dfields to create an aerial representation of banana crops - orthomosaic, and index maps to highlight problem areas even more. Between time needed to fly the drone and collect the data, process the images, generate the maps and interpret them, CoatzaDrone and Advan México were able to deliver results in less than 24 hours.

In the areas marked on the map, we can see a lower population of bananas due to waterlogging, as well as plants that did not reach their full potential size due to the lack of water. Bananas in those areas are reduced in size (deficit of 15-20% of the required length) and the Brix fruit level is lower due to the lack of photosynthesis.


Pix4Dfields orthomosaic with annotations identifying areas of water stress
With the annotation tool on top of the orthomosaic, CoatzaDrone and Advan México were able to identify and mark areas that require targeted actions

Improving crop production by 30%

By using precision agriculture, CoatzaDrone and Advan México were able to identify the points of greatest water stress, and take targeted action.

Installing irrigation or digging drains, as the site requires has the potential to improve not only this crop but the seasons to come.

“By knowing where to turn on the irrigation in a targeted way, considerably saved the use of water, energy, and costs. Having good practices for the identification of probable areas of water stress and applying the necessary corrective measures in these areas, it is expected we will be able to improve production by 30% annually,” concludes Esteban Chavez Cocom.

Pix4Dfields
Drone mapping software for precision agriculture

References

1"Banana market review, FAO", Back to top
2"Is a banana a fruit or a herb", Back to article
3"Panama disease", Back to article

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