Rapid and cost-effective nutrient content analysis of cotton leaves using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS)

PeerJ. 2021 Mar 11:9:e11042. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11042. eCollection 2021.


The development of portable near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) combined with smartphone cloud-based chemometrics has increased the power of these devices to provide real-time in-situ crop nutrient analysis. This capability provides the opportunity to address nutrient deficiencies early to optimise yield. The agriculture sector currently relies on results delivered via laboratory analysis. This involves the collection and preparation of leaf or soil samples during the growing season that are time-consuming and costly. This delays farmers from addressing deficiencies by several weeks which impacts yield potential; hence, requires a faster solution. This study evaluated the feasibility of using NIRS in estimating different macro- and micronutrients in cotton leaf tissues, assessing the accuracy of a portable handheld NIR spectrometer (wavelength range of 1,350-2,500 nm). This study first evaluated the ability of NIRS to predict leaf nutrient levels using dried and ground cotton leaf samples. The results showed the high accuracy of NIRS in predicting essential macronutrients (0.76 ≤ R 2 ≤ 0.98 for N, P, K, Ca, Mg and S) and most micronutrients (0.64 ≤ R 2 ≤ 0.81 for Fe, Mn, Cu, Mo, B, Cl and Na). The results showed that the handheld NIR spectrometer is a practical option to accurately measure leaf nutrient concentrations. This research then assessed the possibility of applying NIRS on fresh leaves for potential in-field applications. NIRS was more accurate in estimating cotton leaf nutrients when applied on dried and ground leaf samples. However, the application of NIRS on fresh leaves was still quite accurate. Using fresh leaves, the prediction accuracy was reduced by 19% for macronutrients and 11% for micronutrients, compared to dried and ground samples. This study provides further evidence on the efficacy of using NIRS for field estimations of cotton nutrients in combination with a nutrient decision support tool, with an accuracy of 87.3% for macronutrients and 86.6% for micronutrients. This application would allow farmers to manage nutrients proactively to avoid yield penalties or environmental impacts.

Keywords: Cotton nutrient management; Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS); Phenotyping; Plant nutrient analysis; Plant nutrient management; Portable spectrometers; Proximal sensing; Real-time sensing.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Sydney Institute of Agriculture on Nitrogen use efficiency and CSIRO Agriculture and Food Strategic Investment project (SIP) funds. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.