Systems Design and Optimisation

Key Areas

This programme investigates, develops and transfers innovative systems that optimise industry agricultural performance. Research, development and innovation is conducted in five main areas.

Research in this Key Area focuses on topical issues pertaining to production sustainability, including:

  • Determination of the impact of salinity and sodicity for soil and water used for irrigation on production sustainability.
  • Assessment of the impacts of agronomic and mechanisation issues on production efficiencies and sustainability;
  • Determination of opportunities for on-farm energy savings and reduction of carbon dioxide emissions;
  • Deployment of novel technologies to improve operational efficiencies and services to the industry; and
  • Development of new and improvement of existing technologies and approaches to further promote alignment between research and development and industry requirements.

Research in this Key Area focuses on the:

  • Development of recommendations and advice to promote effective water management and deployment of associated technologies, both in terms of irrigation practices and surface water management; and
  • Analysis of the socio-technical drivers of adoption of technology, recommendations and best practice advice, with specific reference to irrigation scheduling.

This Key Area encompasses the adaptation, development and deployment of technologies that focus on enhancing SASRI internal efficiencies and the quality of service provision by the institute to the industry.

This research area aims to adapt an existing sugarcane crop forecasting system (a model-based system) to utilise real-time estimates of canopy cover derived from remotely sensed data. It is believed that this will improve the quality of crop forecasts, enabling improved efficiency of cane supply and value chains.

Although the concept has been proven before and is used for other crops, the application of the approach to operational sugarcane crop forecasting is unique internationally.

Remote sensing work has been extended to the automation of obtaining accurate shape files of sugarcane fields and the identification of land use by sugarcane.

This work aims to equip the small-scale grower with knowledge required to utilise the potential of his environment to earn a sustainable livelihood.

  • Focus areas are irrigation, pest and disease control and variety selection.
  • In a proof-of-concept project, drones are used on small and fractioned land to apply ripeners to add value to the crop.
  • The development of a database of each small-scale grower region to be used by extension. From this database soil property maps are produced.
  • The development of a soil sustainability modular course rich in demonstration tools teaching soil properties and their management for sustainable production.


Programme Manager: Systems Design & Optimisation


Programme Manager: Systems Design & Optimisation

Tel: 031 508 7400 (Switchboard)
Tel: 031 508 7400 (Direct)

Role & Overall Purpose
  • To conduct research into soil physical aspects restricting sugarcane yields.
  • To develop procedures and guidelines to improve the soil environment for sustained sugarcane production.
  • To transfer technology to extension officers, growers and other role-players in the SA sugar industry.
  • To manage a portfolio of research projects within the SDO programme.
  • Water storage capacity of soils, soil salinity/ sodicity, soil compaction, tillage practices, root distribution, sugarcane residue management, organic ameliorants, soil health.
Research Interests
  • Impact of clay type and quantity and organic matter on soil water relationships, root distribution, buffer capacity of the soil against degradation and soil health indicators.
  • Modelling root growth and distribution and crop water use.
  • The purpose and outcomes of long-term trials.
  • Measurements to quantify the condition of soils.
  • Promoting crop rotation, organic matter use and by-product re-cycling within the sugar industry.
Key Outcomes
  • Carbon distribution between shoots and roots.
  • Water balance model for stressed sugarcane.
  • Tillage techniques to improve yields on marginal soils.
  • Nutritional and yield benefits of sugarcane residue and other organic products.
  • Soil health indicators for the SA sugar industry.
Key Publications

Dominy, CS, Haynes, RJ and Van Antwerpen, R (2002). Loss of soil organic matter and related soil properties under long-term sugarcane production on two contrasting soils. Biol Fertil Soils 36: 350-356.

Donaldson, RA, Redshaw, KA, Rhodes, R and van Antwerpen, R (2008). Season effects on productivity of some commercial South African sugarcane cultivars: II. Trash production. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 81: 528-538.

Galdos MV, Cerri CC, Cerri CEP, Paustian K & Van Antwerpen R (2009). Simulation of Soil Carbon Dynamics under Sugarcane with the CENTURY Model. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 73: 802-811.

Galdos MV, Cerri CC, Cerri CEP, Paustian K & Van Antwerpen R (2010). Simulation of sugarcane residue decomposition and aboveground growth. Plant and Soil 326 (1): 243-259 (DOI 10.1007/s11104-009-0004-3).

Graham, MH, Haynes, RJ and Van Antwerpen, R (2002). Size and activity of the soil microbial biomass in the row and inter-row of a sugarcane field under burning and green cane harvesting. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 76: 186-195.

Kingston, G, Donzelli, J.L., Meyer, J.H., Richard, E.P, Seeruttun, S., Torres J., and Van Antwerpen, R. (2005). Impact of the green cane harvest and production system on the agronomy of sugarcane. Proc Int Soc Sugar Cane Technol 25:521-531.

Marx, BJ, Bezuidenhout, CN, Lyne, PWL, Van Antwerpen, R (2006). Soil compaction decision support. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 80: 140-107.

Meyer, JH and Van Antwerpen, R (2010). Advances in sugarcane soil fertility research in South Africa. SA J Plant Soil 27(1): 19-31.

Meyer, JH, Van Vuuren JA and Van Antwerpen, R (2005). The potential role of near infra red reflectance (NIR) monitoring in precision agriculture (PAG). Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 79: 202-309.

Miles, N, Meyer, JH and Van Antwerpen, R (2008). Soil organic matter data: What do they mean? Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 81: 324-332.

Purchase BS, Wynne AT, Meyer E and Van Antwerpen R (2008). Is there profit in cane trash ? – Another dimension to the assessment of trashing versus burning. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 81: 86-99.

Singels, A, Van den Berg, M and Van Antwerpen, R (2005). Climate change and yield decline: An analysis of actual and simulated yield data from the BT1 field experiment. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 79: 491-494.

Singels A, van den Berg M, Smit MA, Jones MR, van Antwerpen R (2010). Modelling water uptake, growth and sucrose accumulation of sugarcane subjected to water stress. Field Crops Research 117: 59–69.

Van Antwerpen, R (2005). Indicators of soil health and their importance – a review. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 79: 179-191.

Van Antwerpen, R, Berry, SD, Van Antwerpen, T, Sewpersad, C and Cadet, P (2009). Indicators of soil health for use in the South African sugar industry: A work in progress. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 82: 551-563.

Van Antwerpen, R, Conlong, D and Miles, N (2011). Nutrient management options for reducing Eldana Saccharina (lepidoptera: pyralidae) infestation of trashed sugarcane fields: Results from a preliminary study. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 84: 298 – 300. (Short Comm)

Van Antwerpen, R, Haynes, RJ, Meyer, JH, and Hlanze, D (2003). Assessing organic amendments used by sugarcane growers for improving soil chemical and biological properties. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 77: 293-304.

Van Antwerpen, R, Lyne, PWL, Meyer, E and Brouwers, M (2007). Changes in bulk density of a virgin soil due to compaction by commercial haulage vehicles. Proc Int Soc Sug Cane Technol 26: 470-475.

Van Antwerpen, R, Lyne, PWL, Meyer, E and Brouwers, M (2008). Effect of surface applied pressure by vehicles fitted with pneumatic tyres on properties of a virgin soil. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 81: 408-417.

Van Antwerpen, R, Meyer, JH and Thompson, GD (2006). The impact of trashing on yield response in the South African sugar industry: A summary of results from several BT trials. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 80: 130-133.

Van Antwerpen, R, Rhodes, R and Wynne, A (2008). Economics of trashing: Improvement and sensitivity analysis of this decision support program. Proc S Afr Sug Technol Ass 81: 486-488.

Van Antwerpen, T, Van Antwerpen, R, Meyer, JH, Naidoo, P, Berry, S, Spaull, V, Govender, K, Cadet, P, Rutherford, S and Laing, M (2007). Biotic and abiotic factors associated with a healthy soil in sugarcane production in KwaZulu-Natal. Proc Int Soc Sug Cane Technol 26: 273-281.


BSc Agric; MSc Agric; PhD (Free State).

Current Projects

Refining the Crop Forecast Database and Model
The development of soil quality databases for SSG regions
Soil conservation learning resources for small-scale extension
Technology Development for Small-scale Growers: Pest, Disease, Weed and Variety Management
Development of Datasets for Multi-Scale Water Resource Assessments
Investigating alternative energy supplies to assist with load shedding
A geospatial workflow for extracting crop panel/field boundaries for the area under cane
Land cover mapping and monitoring for the sugar industry
urvey123 Forms as a coordinated approach to data collection
Creating geo-spatial platforms to support SASRI research and services
Development of an application to record and detail extension contacts with growers and other noteworthy observations
Developing and documenting of standard operating procedures for NovaCane® plantlet production
Assessing the protocols for setting irrigation scheduling management lines (soil water thresholds) for capacitance soil water sensors (probes)