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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Remote sensing and on-farm experiments for determining in-season nitrogen rates in winter wheat - Options for implementation, model accuracy and remaining challenges

Piikki, Kristin; Söderström, Mats; Stadig, H.


Optimised nitrogen (N) fertilisation can be used to increase farm profits, to realise the achievement of quality goals for produce, and to reduce environmental risks in the form of leaching and/or volatilisation of N compounds from the fields. This study examined options and challenges for remote sensing-based variable rate supplemental N fertilisation in winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.). The models were based on data from ten field trials conducted in different regions across Sweden over three years. A two-step approach for modelling optimal N rates, suitable for practical implementation in precision agriculture, was developed and evaluated. The expected accuracies for new sites and years were assessed by leave-one-entire-trial-out cross-validation. In a first step, the average N rate was modelled from site-specific information, including data that can be obtained from on-farm experiments, i.e. N uptake in plots without N fertilisation (zero-plots) and N uptake in plots with nonlimiting N supply (max-plots). In the second step, additions or subtractions from this average N rate was modelled based on vegetation indices (VIs) mapped by remote sensing. Mean absolute error of the best prediction was 14 kg N ha (-1). In a practical application, however, there will be additional uncertainty from several sources, e.g. uncertainty in the assessment of yield potential. The best mean N rate model was based on geographical region, cultivar, N uptake in zero-plots and yield potential, while the best model of relative N rate within the field used a new multispectral index (d75r6), which was designed to give a standardized measure of the steepness of the red edge of reflectance of a crop canopy spectrum. Several other multispectral VIs also performed well but red-green-blue indices were less useful. We conclude that remote sensing (to capture within-field spatial variation patterns), on-farm experiments (to determine the field mean N rate), and the farmers' experience and knowledge on local conditions (e.g. to assess the yield potential), is a useful combination of information sources in decision support systems for variable rate application of N. Options and remaining research needs for the setup of such a system are discussed.


Decision support system (DSS); Nitrogen; On-farm experiments (OFE); Remote sensing; Variable-rate; Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)

Published in

Field Crops Research
2022, Volume: 289, article number: 108742