Comparing UAV-Based Technologies and RGB-D Reconstruction Methods for Plant Height and Biomass Monitoring on Grass Ley

Sensors (Basel). 2019 Jan 28;19(3):535. doi: 10.3390/s19030535.


Pastures are botanically diverse and difficult to characterize. Digital modeling of pasture biomass and quality by non-destructive methods can provide highly valuable support for decision-making. This study aimed to evaluate aerial and on-ground methods to characterize grass ley fields, estimating plant height, biomass and volume, using digital grass models. Two fields were sampled, one timothy-dominant and the other ryegrass-dominant. Both sensing systems allowed estimation of biomass, volume and plant height, which were compared with ground truth, also taking into consideration basic economical aspects. To obtain ground-truth data for validation, 10 plots of 1 m² were manually and destructively sampled on each field. The studied systems differed in data resolution, thus in estimation capability. There was a reasonably good agreement between the UAV-based, the RGB-D-based estimates and the manual height measurements on both fields. RGB-D-based estimation correlated well with ground truth of plant height ( R 2 > 0.80 ) for both fields, and with dry biomass ( R 2 = 0.88 ), only for the timothy field. RGB-D-based estimation of plant volume for ryegrass showed a high agreement ( R 2 = 0.87 ). The UAV-based system showed a weaker estimation capability for plant height and dry biomass ( R 2 < 0.6 ). UAV-systems are more affordable, easier to operate and can cover a larger surface. On-ground techniques with RGB-D cameras can produce highly detailed models, but with more variable results than UAV-based models. On-ground RGB-D data can be effectively analysed with open source software, which is a cost reduction advantage, compared with aerial image analysis. Since the resolution for agricultural operations does not need fine identification the end-details of the grass plants, the use of aerial platforms could result a better option in grasslands.

Keywords: 3D crop modeling; depth images; on-ground sensing; parameter acquisition; remote sensing.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture / methods*
  • Biomass
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods*
  • Poaceae / anatomy & histology
  • Poaceae / growth & development*
  • Remote Sensing Technology / methods*
  • Software