Estimating crop nutritional status using smart apps to support nitrogen fertilization. A case study on paddy rice.

2019 - Sensors, 19, 981
Paleari, L., Movedi, E., Vesely, F.M., Thoelke, W., Tartarini, S., Foi, M., Boschetti, M., Nutini, F., Confalonieri, R.


Accurate nitrogen (N) management is crucial for the economic and environmental sustainability of cropping systems. Different methods have been developed to increase the efficiency of N fertilizations. However, their costs and/or low usability have often prevented their adoption in operational contexts. We developed a diagnostic system to support topdressing N fertilization based on the use of smart apps to derive a N nutritional index (NNI; actual/critical plant N content). The system was tested on paddy rice via dedicated field experiments, where the smart apps PocketLAI and PocketN were used to estimate, respectively, critical (from leaf area index) and actual plant N content. Results highlighted the system’s capability to correctly detect the conditions of N stress (NNI < 1) and N surplus (NNI > 1), thereby effectively supporting topdressing fertilizations. A resource-efficient methodology to derive PocketN calibration curves for different varieties—needed to extend the system to new contexts—was also developed and successfully evaluated on 43 widely grown European varieties. The widespread availability of smartphones and the possibility to integrate NNI and remote sensing technologies to derive variable rate fertilization maps generate new opportunities for supporting N management under real farming conditions.

Keywords: Critical nitrogen, NNI, PocketLAI, PocketN, sustainable N management
DOI: 10.3390/s19040981