Estimating alfalfa yield and nutritive value using remote sensing and air temperature

Reagan L. Noland, M. Scott Wells, Jeffrey A. Coulter, Tyler Tiede, John M. Baker, Krishona L. Martinson, Craig C. Sheaffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


In-field estimation of alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) yield and nutritive value can inform management decisions to optimize forage quality and production. However, acquisition of timely information at the field scale is limited using traditional measurements such as destructive sampling and assessment of plant maturity. Remote sensing technologies (e.g., measurement of canopy reflectance) have the potential to enable rapid measurements at the field scale. Canopy reflectance (350–2500 nm) and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR)-estimated canopy height were measured in conjunction with destructive sampling of alfalfa across a range of maturities at Rosemount, MN in 2014 and 2015. Sets of specific spectral wavebands were determined via stepwise regression to predict alfalfa yield and nutritive value and models were reduced by spectral range to improve utility. Cumulative growing degree units (GDUs) and canopy height were tested as model covariates. An alternative GDU calculation (GDUALT) using a temporally graduating base temperature was also tested against the traditional static base temperature. The inclusion of GDUALT increased prediction accuracy for all response variables by 9–17%. Models using a common set of seven wavebands, combined with GDUALT, explained 81–90% of the variability in yield, crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and NDF digestibility (NDFd; 48-h in-vitro), respectively. This research establishes potential for remote sensing measurements to be integrated with air temperature information to achieve rapid and accurate predictions of alfalfa yield and nutritive value at the field scale for optimized harvest management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)189-196
Number of pages8
JournalField Crops Research
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the University of Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. We appreciate the technical contributions of Joshua Larson, Eric Ristau, Zach Marston, and Alexander Hummel.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 Elsevier B.V.


  • Alfalfa quality
  • Alfalfa yield
  • Canopy reflectance
  • Growing degree units
  • Remote-sensing applications


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