Biomass and yield are key variables for assessing the production and performance of agricultural systems. Modeling and predicting the biomass and yield of individual plants at the farm scale represents a major challenge in precision agriculture, particularly when salinity and other abiotic stresses may play a role. Here, we evaluate a diversity panel of the wild tomato species (Solanum pimpinellifolium) through both field and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)-based phenotyping of 600 control and 600 salt-treated plants. The study objective was to predict fresh shoot mass, tomato fruit numbers, and yield mass at harvest based on a range of variables derived from the UAV imagery. UAV-based red–green–blue (RGB) imageries collected 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, and 8 weeks before harvest were also used to determine if prediction accuracies varied between control and salt-treated plants. Multispectral UAV-based imagery was also collected 1 and 2 weeks prior to harvest to further explore predictive insights. In order to estimate the end of season biomass and yield, a random forest machine learning approach was implemented using UAV-imagery-derived predictors as input variables. Shape features derived from the UAV, such as plant area, border length, width, and length, were found to have the highest importance in the predictions, followed by vegetation indices and the entropy texture measure. The multispectral UAV imagery collected 2 weeks prior to harvest produced the highest explained variances for fresh shoot mass (87.95%), fruit numbers (63.88%), and yield mass per plant (66.51%). The RGB UAV imagery produced very similar results to those of the multispectral UAV dataset, with the explained variance reducing as a function of increasing time to harvest. The results showed that predicting the yield of salt-stressed plants produced higher accuracies when the models excluded control plants, whereas predicting the yield of control plants was not affected by the inclusion of salt-stressed plants within the models. This research demonstrates that it is possible to predict the average biomass and yield up to 8 weeks prior to harvest within 4.23% of field-based measurements and up to 4 weeks prior to harvest at the individual plant level. Results from this work may be useful in providing guidance for yield forecasting of healthy and salt-stressed tomato plants, which in turn may inform growing practices, logistical planning, and sales operations.
KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-04-19
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): Award No. 2302-01-01
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank all the workers at the King Abdulaziz University Agricultural Research Station in Hada Al-Sham for their extensive help with removal of weeds, plant maintenance, and harvesting. Khadija Zemmouri and Dinara Utarbayeva prepared plots and undertook sowing of all plants.