Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Bhatti, S., D. M. Heeren, S. A. O’Shaughnessy, S. R. Evett, M. S. Maguire, S. P. Kashyap, and C. M. U. Neale. 2022. Comparison of stationary and mobile canopy sensing systems for irrigation management of maize and soybean in Nebraska. Applied Engineering in Agriculture 38(2): 331-342.


U.S. government work


Accurate knowledge of plant and field characteristics is crucial for irrigation management. Irrigation can potentially be better managed by utilizing data collected from various sensors installed on different platforms. The accuracy and repeatability of each data source are important considerations when selecting a sensing system suitable for irrigation management. The objective of this study was to compare data from multispectral (red and near-infrared bands) and thermal (long wave thermal infrared band) sensors mounted on different platforms to investigate their comparative usability and accuracy. The different sensor platforms included stationary posts fixed on the ground, the lateral of a center pivot irrigation system, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), and Planet (PlanetScope multispectral imager, Planet Labs, Inc., San Francisco, Calif.) satellites. The surface reflectance data from multispectral (MS) sensors were used to compute the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index (SAVI). The experimental plots were managed with rainfed and irrigated treatments. Irrigation was applied according to a spatial evapotranspiration model informed with Planet satellite imagery. The NDVI and SAVI curves computed from the different sensing systems exhibited similar patterns and were able to capture differences between the rainfed and irrigated treatments when the crops were approaching senescence. Strong correlations were observed for canopy temperature measurements between the stationary and pivot-mounted infrared thermometer (IRT) sensors (p-value of less than 0.01 for the correlations) when canopy were scanned with no irrigation application (dry scans). The best correlation was obtained for the irrigated maize, which yielded r2 of 0.99, RMSE of 0.4°C, and MAE of 0.3°C. The correlation for the canopy temperature data collected during dry scan between UAS and pivot-mounted thermal sensors was weak with r2 = 0.26 to 0.28, larger RMSE values of 3.7°C and MAE values of 3.4°C. Secondary analysis between thermal data from stationary and pivot-mounted IRTs collected during wet scans (during an irrigation event) demonstrated reduced canopy temperature from pivot-mounted IRTs by approximately 2°C for irrigated soybean due to wetting of the canopy by the irrigation. Understanding the performance of these sensor systems is valuable in configuring practical design and operational considerations when using sensor feedback for irrigation management.