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Author: Johnson, David M.

An assessment of pre- and within-season remotely sensed variables for forecasting corn and soybean yields in the United States

Journal: Remote Sensing of Environment
Volume: 141
Year: 2014
Pages: 116--128


Four timely and broadly available remotely sensed datasets were assessed for inclusion into county-level corn and soybean yield forecasting efforts focused on the Corn Belt region of the central United States (US). Those datasets were the (1) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) as derived from the Terra satellite's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), (2) daytime and (3) nighttime land surface temperature (LST) as derived from Aqua satellite's MODIS, and (4) precipitation from the National Weather Service (NWS) Nexrad-based gridded data product. The originating MODIS data utilized were the globally produced 8-day, clear sky composited science products (MOD09Q1 and MYD11A2), while the US-wide NWS data were manipulated to mesh with the MODIS imagery both spatially and temporally by regridding and summing the otherwise daily measurements. The crop growing seasons of 2006–2011 were analyzed with each year bounded by 32 8-day periods from mid-February through late October. Land cover classifications known as the Cropland Data Layer as produced annually by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) were used to isolate the input dataset pixels as to corn and soybeans for each of the corresponding years. The relevant pixels were then averaged by crop and time period to produce a county-level estimate of NDVI, the LSTs, and precipitation. They in turn were related to official annual NASS county level yield statistics. For the Corn Belt region as a whole, both corn and soybean yields were found to be positively correlated with NDVI in the middle of the summer and negatively correlated to daytime LST at that same time. Nighttime LST and precipitation showed no correlations to yield, regardless of the time prior or during the growing season. There was also slight suggestion of low NDVI and high daytime LST in the spring being positively related to final yields, again for both crops. Taking only NDVI and daytime LST as inputs from the 2006–2011 dataset, regression tree-based models were built and county-level, within-sample coefficients of determination (R2) of 0.93 were found for both crops. Limiting the models by systematically removing late season data showed the model performance to remain strong even at mid-season and still viable even earlier. Finally, the derived models were used to predict out-of-sample for the 2012 season, which ended up having an anomalous drought. Yet, the county-level results compared reasonably well against official statistics with R2=0.77 for corn and 0.71 for soybeans. The root-mean-square errors were 1.26 and 0.42metrictonsper hectare, respectively.

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