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Using a mobile device “app” and proximal remote sensing technologies to assess soil cover fractions on agricultural fields

Laamrani, A., Lara, R.P., Berg, A.A., Branson, D., Joosse, P. (2018). Using a mobile device “app” and proximal remote sensing technologies to assess soil cover fractions on agricultural fields, 18(3),


© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada as represented by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. Quantifying the amount of crop residue left in the field after harvest is a key issue for sustainability. Conventional assessment approaches (e.g., line-transect) are labor intensive, time-consuming and costly. Many proximal remote sensing devices and systems have been developed for agricultural applications such as cover crop and residue mapping. For instance, current mobile devices (smartphones & tablets) are usually equipped with digital cameras and global positioning systems and use applications (apps) for in-field data collection and analysis. In this study, we assess the feasibility and strength of a mobile device app developed to estimate crop residue cover. The performance of this novel technique (from here on referred to as “app” method) was compared against two point counting approaches: an established digital photograph-grid method and a new automated residue counting script developed in MATLAB at the University of Guelph. Both photograph-grid and script methods were used to count residue under 100 grid points. Residue percent cover was estimated using the app, script and photograph-grid methods on 54 vertical digital photographs (images of the ground taken from above at a height of 1.5 m) collected from eighteen fields (9 corn and 9 soybean, 3 samples each) located in southern Ontario. Results showed that residue estimates from the app method were in good agreement with those obtained from both photograph–grid and script methods (R2 = 0.86 and 0.84, respectively). This study has found that the app underestimates the residue coverage by −6.3% and −10.8% when compared to the photograph-grid and script methods, respectively. With regards to residue type, soybean has a slightly lower bias than corn (i.e., −5.3% vs. −7.4%). For photos with residue <30%, the app derived residue measurements are within ±5% difference (bias) of both photograph-grid- and script-derived residue measurements. These methods could therefore be used to track the recommended minimum soil residue cover of 30%, implemented to reduce farmland topsoil and nutrient losses that impact water quality. Overall, the app method was found to be a good alternative to the point counting methods, which are more time-consuming.

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