Biological Systems Engineering


Date of this Version



Agricultural Water Management 274 (2022) 107946.


Open access.


Thermal sensing provides rapid and accurate estimation of crop water stress through canopy temperature data. Canopy temperature is highly dependent on the transpiration rate of the leaves. It is usually assumed that any reduction in crop evapotranspiration (ET) leads to crop yield loss. As a result, an increase in canopy temperature due to a decrease in crop ET would indicate crop yield loss. This research evaluated the hypothesis that crop water stress could be detected using canopy temperature measurements (increased leaf temperature) from infrared thermometers (IRTs) before incurring crop yield loss. This would be possible in a narrow range when the photosynthesis rate (and carbon assimilation) is limited by solar radiation (energy-limiting water stress) while the leaf has abundant carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Once photosynthesis becomes limited by carbon dioxide (carbon-dioxide-limiting water stress), then yield reduction would occur. In this field experiment, measured response variables included the integrated crop water stress index (iCWSI), ET, and crop yield for maize and soybean during the 2020 and 2021 growing seasons. The irrigation was applied at four different refill levels: rainfed (0%), deficit (50%), full (100%), and over (150%). The irrigation depth was prescribed using four different irrigation methods. The field was irrigated with a center pivot irrigation system, which was also used as a platform to mount IRT sensors. The iCWSI thresholds required for irrigation management were determined using the iCWSI dataset collected in 2020. The low, medium, and high iCWSI thresholds were 120, 150, and 180, respectively for maize and 110, 130, and 150, respectively for soybean. These thresholds should be updated with iCWSI data from future studies in this region to increase the credibility of the thresholds for irrigation management. The mean iCWSI values for consecutive days after a wetting event substantially increased with time for each irrigation level and a larger range in iCWSI values was observed among the irrigation levels after three days from a wetting event. The seasonal iCWSI for different levels were found to be negatively correlated with seasonal evapotranspiration for both years. The correlations between seasonal ET and crop yield were significant with the rainfed and deficit levels for maize (p-value < 0.001) and soybean (p-value = 0.04) in 2020. The iCWSI and yield data for the fully watered plots indicated that thermal stress was detected using the sensing system without incurring yield loss (i.e., energy-limiting water stress). The ET and yield data for 2021 indicated that reduction in seasonal crop ET did not result in yield loss which also supported the hypothesis. Future studies should investigate whether this phenomenon of detecting crop water stress in an early stage without yield loss is observed in other climates and locations.