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Earth observation for sustainable sugarcane production

Project Description

Sugarcane production must address the challenge between the need to increase crop production and improve labour productivity whilst improving the efficiency of water and fertiliser use (Hess et al, 2016). One way to address this is to make effective use of data on geospatial patterns in cultivation and the factors that influence sugarcane yield to better understanding how sustainable production can be achieved.

Earth observation (EO) can play a key role in collecting this data, with existing research on the mapping of sugarcane (Adami et al, 2012), the determination of yield through the retrieval of bio-physical properties (Pereira et al, 2016) and measuring of water use efficiency (Olivier et al, 2018). However, these studies have been limited in scope and do not leverage the near continuous record of land surfaces changes over the last decade that EO data can provide. Integrating these high volume and velocity datasets with field level data on management, water use, cutting and sugar content will lead to new understanding of current production that can better inform the debate on sustainable sugarcane.
This project will answer the question; how do we monitor sugarcane from long-term satellite programmes and new satellite constellations in near-real time? We will define how the emergence of cloud-based technologies, and enabling techniques, for analysing large quantities of EO data can be used for measurement over wide geographical areas at high resolution. The delivery of a robust tool for the monitoring of sugarcane will lead to greater understanding of the changing spatial and temporal patterns in cultivation and yield.

We have partnered with Neta Analytics (Neta), who work with the Indian Sugarcane sector to develop tools for data-driven decision making. They will provide field level expertise and ensure that the research outcomes will directly impact the sustainability of the sugarcane industry in India.

The project will run for 3.5 years, and will be based at Cranfield University at its Bedfordshire campus. The PhD is part of the CENTA2 Doctoral Training partnership (

Application Deadline
Projects live: 15th November 2019
Application deadline:10th January 2020
Interview week: Week commencing 3rd February 2020
Universal acceptance date for offers:18th March 2020
Start date: 1st October 2020

Dr Daniel Simms (Cranfield University)
Dr Paul Burgess (Cranfield University)
Ramnath Nandakumar (Neta Analytics Limited, )

Entry requirements
Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a relevant environmental science subject.

CENTA2 studentships are for 3.5 years and are funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). In addition to the full payment of their tuition fees, successful candidates will receive the following financial support.
Annual stipend, set at £15,009 for 2019/20
Research training support grant (RTSG) of £8,000

We welcome applications from UK and EU students, students from outside of the EU are not eligible. Full tuition fees and an annual stipend in line with UK Research Councils are available for UK and EU applicants who qualify for NERC awards. Further guidance about eligibility is available at RCUK Terms & Conditions

How to apply

Please complete the online application form at Cranfield University.

Please state the name of the project you will to apply for
When asked how you intend to fund your postgraduate studies please state that you wish to apply for a NERC CENTA2 studentship.
You will also be required to complete and submit the CENTA2 studentship application form and attach it to the application form.

Further information
For informal enquiries about the research projects please contact the relevant 1st supervisor above or for general queries about the DTP please contact CENTA at or 0121 414 6171

For more information about application please visit the CENTA2 application page.

Funding Notes

See above

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