Knowledge of phenological events and their variability can help to determine final yield, plan management approach, tackle climate change, and model crop development. THe timing of phenological stages and phases is known to be highly correlated with temperature which is therefore an essential component for building phenological models. Satellite data and, particularly, Copernicus' ERA5 climate reanalysis data are easily available. Weather stations, on the other hand, provide scattered temperature data, with fragmentary spatial coverage and accessibility, as such being scarcely efficacious as unique source of information for the implementation of predictive models. However, as ERA5 reanalysis data are not real temperature measurements but reanalysis products, it is necessary to verify whether these data can be used as a replacement for weather station temperature measurements. The aims of this study were: (i) to assess the validity of ERA5 data as a substitute for weather station temperature measurements, (ii) to test different machine learning models for the prediction of phenological phases while using different sets of features, and (iii) to optimize the base temperature of olive tree phenological model. The predictive capability of machine learning models and the performance of different feature subsets were assessed when comparing the recorded temperature data, ERA5 data, and a simple growing degree day phenological model as benchmark. Data on olive tree phenology observation, which were collected in Tuscany for three years, provided the phenological phases to be used as target variables. The results show that ERA5 climate reanalysis data can be used for modelling phenological phases and that these models provide better predictions in comparison with the models trained with weather station temperature measurements.
Keywords: BBCH scale; base temperature; machine learning; olive phenology modeling; phenophase.