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Abstract

RapidSCAN is a portable active canopy sensor with red, red-edge, and near infrared spectral bands. The objective of this study is to develop and evaluate a RapidSCAN sensor-based precision nitrogen (N) management (PNM) strategy for high-yielding rice in Northeast China. Six rice N rate experiments were conducted from 2014 to 2016 at Jiansanjiang Experiment Station of China Agricultural University in Northeast China. The results indicated that the sensor performed well for estimating rice yield potential (YP0) and yield response to additional N application (RIHarvest) at the stem elongation stage using normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) (R2 = 0.60–0.77 and relative error (REr) = 6.2–8.0%) and at the heading stage using normalized difference red edge (NDRE) (R2 = 0.70–0.82 and REr = 7.3–8.7%). A new RapidSCAN sensor-based PNM strategy was developed that would make N recommendations at both stem elongation and heading growth stages, in contrast to previously developed strategy making N recommendation only at the stem elongation stage. This new PNM strategy could save 24% N fertilizers, and increase N use efficiencies by 29–35% as compared to Farmer N Management, without significantly affecting the rice grain yield and economic returns. Compared with regional optimum N management, the new PNM strategy increased 4% grain yield, 3–10% N use efficiencies and 148 $ ha−1 economic returns across years and varieties. It is concluded that the new RapidSCAN sensor-based PNM strategy with two in-season N recommendations using NDVI and NDRE is suitable for guiding in-season N management in high-yield rice management systems. Future studies are needed to evaluate this RapidSCAN sensor-based PNM strategy under diverse on-farm conditions, as well as to integrate it into high-yield rice management systems for food security and sustainable development.

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Abstract

The dynamic interactions between soil, weather and crop management have considerable influences on crop yield within a region, and should be considered in optimizing nitrogen (N) management. The objectives of this study were to determine the influence of soil type, weather conditions and planting density on economic optimal N rate (EONR), and to evaluate the potential benefits of site-specific N management strategies for maize production. The experiments were conducted in two soil types (black and aeolian sandy soils) from 2015 to 2017, involving different N rates (0 to 300 kg ha−1) with three planting densities (55,000, 70,000, and 85,000 plant ha−1) in Northeast China. The results showed that the average EONR was higher in black soil (265 kg ha−1) than in aeolian sandy soil (186 kg ha−1). Conversely, EONR showed higher variability in aeolian sandy soil (coefficient of variation (CV) = 30%) than in black soil (CV = 10%) across different weather conditions and planting densities. Compared with farmer N rate (FNR), applying soil-specific EONR (SS-EONR), soil- and year-specific EONR (SYS-EONR) and soil-, year-, and planting density-specific EONR (SYDS-EONR) would significantly reduce N rate by 25%, 30% and 38%, increase net return (NR) by 155 $ ha−1, 176 $ ha−1, and 163 $ ha−1, and improve N use efficiency (NUE) by 37–42%, 52%, and 67–71% across site-years, respectively. Compared with regional optimal N rate (RONR), applying SS-EONR, SYS-EONR and SYDS-EONR would significantly reduce N application rate by 6%, 12%, and 22%, while increasing NUE by 7–8%, 16–19% and 28–34% without significantly affecting yield or NR, respectively. It is concluded that soil-specific N management has the potential to improve maize NUE compared with both farmer practice and regional optimal N management in Northeast China, especially when each year’s weather condition and planting density information is also considered. More studies are needed to develop practical in-season soil (site)-specific N management strategies using crop sensing and modeling technologies to better account for soil, weather and planting density variation under diverse on-farm conditions.

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Abstract

Optimizing nitrogen (N) management in rice is crucial for China’s food security and sustainable agricultural development. Nondestructive crop growth monitoring based on remote sensing technologies can accurately assess crop N status, which may be used to guide the in-season site-specific N recommendations. The fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based remote sensing is a low-cost, easy-to-operate technology for collecting spectral reflectance imagery, an important data source for precision N management. The relationships between many vegetation indices (VIs) derived from spectral reflectance data and crop parameters are known to be nonlinear. As a result, nonlinear machine learning methods have the potential to improve the estimation accuracy. The objective of this study was to evaluate five different approaches for estimating rice (Oryza sativa L.) aboveground biomass (AGB), plant N uptake (PNU), and N nutrition index (NNI) at stem elongation (SE) and heading (HD) stages in Northeast China: (1) single VI (SVI); (2) stepwise multiple linear regression (SMLR); (3) random forest (RF); (4) support vector machine (SVM); and (5) artificial neural networks (ANN) regression. The results indicated that machine learning methods improved the NNI estimation compared to VI-SLR and SMLR methods. The RF algorithm performed the best for estimating NNI (R2 = 0.94 (SE) and 0.96 (HD) for calibration and 0.61 (SE) and 0.79 (HD) for validation). The root mean square errors (RMSEs) were 0.09, and the relative errors were <10% in all the models. It is concluded that the RF machine learning regression can significantly improve the estimation of rice N status using UAV remote sensing. The application machine learning methods offers a new opportunity to better use remote sensing data for monitoring crop growth conditions and guiding precision crop management. More studies are needed to further improve these machine learning-based models by combining both remote sensing data and other related soil, weather, and management information for applications in precision N and crop management.

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Abstract

Improving nitrogen (N) management of small-scale farming systems in developing countries is crucially important for food security and sustainable development of world agriculture, but it is also very challenging. The N Nutrition Index (NNI) is a reliable indicator for crop N status, and there is an urgent need to develop an effective method to non-destructively estimate crop NNI in different smallholder farmer fields to guide in-season N management. The eBee fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based remote sensing system, a ready-to-deploy aircraft with a Parrot Sequoia+ multispectral camera onboard, has been used for applications in precision agriculture. The objectives of this study were to (i) determine the potential of using fixed-wing UAV-based multispectral remote sensing for non-destructive estimation of winter wheat NNI in different smallholder farmer fields across the study village in the North China Plain (NCP) and (ii) develop a practical strategy for village-scale winter wheat N status diagnosis in small scale farming systems. Four plot experiments were conducted within farmer fields in 2016 and 2017 in a village of Laoling County, Shandong Province in the NCP for evaluation of a published critical N dilution curve and for serving as reference plots. UAV remote sensing images were collected from all the fields across the village in 2017 and 2018. About 150 plant samples were collected from farmer fields and plot experiments each year for ground truthing. Two indirect and two direct approaches were evaluated for estimating NNI using vegetation indices (VIs). To facilitate practical applications, the performance of three commonly used normalized difference VIs were compared with the top performing VIs selected from 59 tested indices. The most practical and stable method was using VIs to calculate N sufficiency index (NSI) and then to estimate NNI non-destructively (R2 = 0.53–0.56). Using NSI thresholds to diagnose N status directly was quite stable, with a 57–59% diagnostic accuracy rate. This strategy is practical and least affected by the choice of VIs across fields, varieties, and years. This study demonstrates that fixed-wing UAV–based remote sensing is a promising technology for in-season diagnosis of winter wheat N status in smallholder farmer fields at village scale. The considerable variability in local soil conditions and crop management practices influenced the overall accuracy of N diagnosis, so more studies are needed to further validate and optimize the reported strategy and consecutively develop practical UAV remote sensing–based in-season N recommendation methods.

Abstract

Today’s modern precision agriculture applications have a huge demand for data with high spatial and temporal resolution. This leads to the need of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) as sensor platforms providing both, easy use and a high area coverage. This study shows the successful development of a prototype hybrid UAV for practical applications in precision agriculture. The UAV consists of an off-the-shelf fixed-wing fuselage, which has been enhanced with multi-rotor functionality. It was programmed to perform pre-defined waypoint missions completely autonomously, including vertical take-off, horizontal flight, and vertical landing. The UAV was tested for its return-to-home (RTH) accuracy, power consumption and general flight performance at different wind speeds. The RTH accuracy was 43.7 cm in average, with a root-mean-square error of 39.9 cm. The power consumption raised with an increase in wind speed. An extrapolation of the analysed power consumption to conditions without wind resulted in an estimated 40 km travel range, when we assumed a 25 % safety margin of remaining battery capacity. This translates to a maximal area coverage of 300 ha for a scenario with 18 m/s airspeed, 50 minutes flight time, 120 m AGL altitude, and a desired 70 % of image side-lap and 85 % forward-lap. The ground sample distance with an in-built RGB camera was 3.5 cm, which we consider sufficient for farm-scale mapping missions for most precision agriculture applications.

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Abstract

Currently, sugar snap peas are harvested manually. In high-cost countries like Norway, such a labour-intensive practise implies particularly large costs for the farmer. Hence, automated alternatives are highly sought after. This project explored a concept for robotic autonomous identification and tracking of sugar snap pea pods. The approach was based on a combination of visible–near infrared reflection measurements and image analysis, along with visual servoing. A proof-of-concept harvesting platform was implemented by mounting a robotic arm with hand-mounted sensors on a mobile unit. The platform was tested under plastic greenhouse conditions on potted plants of the sugar snap pea variety Cascadia using LED-lights and a partial shade. The results showed that it was feasible to differentiate the pods from the surrounding foliage using the light reflection at the spectral range around 970 nm combined with elementary image segmentation and shape modelling methods. The proof-of-concept harvesting platform was tested on 48 representative agricultural environments comprising dense canopy, varying pod sizes, partial occlusions and different working distances. A set of 104 images were analysed during the teleoperation experiment. The true positive detection rate was 93 and 87% for images acquired at long distances and at close distances, respectively. The robot arm achieved a success rate of 54% for autonomous visual servoing to a pre-grasp pose around targeted pods on 22 untouched scenarios. This study shows the potential of developing a prototype robot for semi-automated sugar snap pea harvesting.

Abstract

It has been long known that thermal imaging may be used to detect stress (e.g. water and nutrient deficiency) in growing crops. Developments in microbolometer thermal cameras, such as the introduction of imaging arrays that may operate without costly active temperature stabilization, have vitalized the interest in thermal imaging for crop measurements. In this study, we have focused on the challenges occurring when temperature stabilization is omitted, including the effects of focal-plane-array (FPA) temperature, camera settings and the environment in which the measurements are performed. Further, we have designed and tested models for providing thermal response from an analog LWIR video signal (typical output from low-cost microbolometer thermal cameras). Finally, we have illustrated and discussed challenges which typically occur under practical use of thermal imaging of crops, by means of three cereal showcases, including proximal and remotely based (UAV) data acquisition. The results showed that changing FPA temperature greatly affected the measurements, and that wind and irradiance also appeared to affect the temperature dynamics considerably. Further, we found that adequate settings of camera gain and offset were crucial for obtaining a reliable result. The model which was considered best in terms of transforming video signals into thermal response data included information on camera FPA temperature, and was based on a priori calibrations using a black-body radiation source under controlled conditions. Very good calibration (r2>0.99, RMSE=0.32°C, n=96) was obtained for a target temperature range of 15-35°C, covering typical daytime crop temperatures in the growing season. However, the three showcases illustrated, that under practical conditions, more factors than FPA temperature may need to be corrected for. In conclusion, this study shows that thermal data acquisition by means of an analog, uncooled thermal camera may represent a possible, cost-efficient method for the detection of crop stress, but appropriate corrections of disturbing factors are required in order to obtain sufficient accuracy.