Phenological stage and vegetation index for predicting corn yield under rainfed environments

Front Plant Sci. 2023 Jul 21:14:1168732. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2023.1168732. eCollection 2023.


Uncrewed aerial systems (UASs) provide high temporal and spatial resolution information for crop health monitoring and informed management decisions to improve yields. However, traditional in-season yield prediction methodologies are often inconsistent and inaccurate due to variations in soil types and environmental factors. This study aimed to identify the best phenological stage and vegetation index (VI) for estimating corn yield under rainfed conditions. Multispectral images were collected over three years (2020-2022) during the corn growing season and over fifty VIs were analyzed. In the three-year period, thirty-one VIs exhibited significant correlations (r ≥ 0.7) with yield. Sixteen VIs were significantly correlated with the yield at least for two years, and five VIs had a significant correlation with the yield for all three years. A strong correlation with yield was achieved by combining red, red edge, and near infrared-based indices. Further, combined correlation and random forest an alyses between yield and VIs led to the identification of consistent and highest predictive power VIs for corn yield prediction. Among them, leaf chlorophyll index, Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) terrestrial chlorophyll index and modified normalized difference at 705 were the most consistent predictors of corn yield when recorded around the reproductive stage (R1). This study demonstrated the dynamic nature of canopy reflectance and the importance of considering growth stages, and environmental conditions for accurate corn yield prediction.

Keywords: corn; cover crop; phenology; remote sensing; vegetation indices; yield.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the USDA-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) (58-6064-9-007) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (MIS 043050).