Water-Saving Innovations Help RCL FOODS Do More With Less

At RCL FOODS, “seeing and doing things differently” is one of the values that drives us in our quest to provide “more food to more people, more often”. That includes finding innovative ways to do MORE with less, environmentally speaking – like saving water, using novel methods in our cane agriculture space.

A few years ago our Sugar Agric team started a journey towards ‘precision farming’ to ensure the best possible productivity and efficiency. As part of that journey, capacitance probes have been inserted in over 250 cane fields to measure the moisture levels in the soil so that exactly the right amount of water is supplied to the crop, avoiding wastage. They also developed a first-of-its-kind software application called SugarCube which collates data (from drones, local weather stations and capacitance probes) on one platform. This helps farmers see the impact of various factors like irrigation on their crop yield, so that they can plan their future activities better. 

A capacitance probe reads the moisture content in the soil to enable accurate irrigation

And the innovation didn’t stop there…

The Agric team is currently piloting Variable Speed Irrigation (VSI) on six of their centre pivot irrigation systems. VSI uses software to change the speed of the centre pivot to suit the irrigation needs on the ground below. Where a particular section needs more water, the pivot slows down, and vice versa. “This is a fairly inexpensive way of achieving a water saving of up to 12% per pivot,” explains our agronomist Hestia Saaiman.

The team was also the first in South Africa to acquire Variable Rate Irrigation (VRI) systems on two of its pivots, which provide targeted irrigation for every different area in the irrigation path. It’s so precise that nozzles simply close off when they reach dams and roadways, reducing water waste.

A VRI-enabled centre pivot – an innovative way to save water

“Since water is a scare resource, we are doing everything we can to use it as efficiently as possible. All our recent innovations – as well as simple techniques like leaving the cane leaves on the fields after harvesting to retain moisture – have played in major role in doing this successfully,” says Cane Operations Manager Hennie Greyling.

If innovation is a way of looking at what exists, and imagining a new and better way of doing it, then our Sugar team has hit the sweet spot!