Soybean iron deficiency chlorosis high throughput phenotyping using an unmanned aircraft system

Austin A. Dobbels, Aaron J. Lorenz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Background: Iron deficiency chlorosis (IDC) is an abiotic stress in soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.] that causes significant yield reductions. Symptoms of IDC include interveinal chlorosis and stunting of the plant. While there are management practices that can overcome these drastic yield losses, the preferred way to manage IDC is growing tolerant soybean varieties. To develop varieties tolerant to IDC, breeders may easily phenotype up to thousands of candidate soybean lines every year for severity of symptoms related to IDC, a task traditionally done with a 1-5 visual rating scale. The visual rating scale is subjective and, because it is time consuming and laborious, can typically only be accomplished once or twice during a growing season. Results: The goal of this study was to use an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to improve field screening for tolerance to soybean IDC. During the summer of 2017, 3386 plots were visually scored for IDC stress on two different dates. In addition, images were captured with a DJI Inspire 1 platform equipped with a modified dual camera system which simultaneously captures digital red, green, blue images as well as red, green, near infrared (NIR) images. A pipeline was created for image capture, orthomosaic generation, processing, and analysis. Plant and soil classification was achieved using unsupervised classification resulting in 95% overall classification accuracy. Within the plant classified canopy, the green, yellow, and brown plant pixels were classified and used as features for random forest and neural network models. Overall, the random forest and neural network models achieved similar misclassification rates and classification accuracy, which ranged from 68 to 77% across rating dates. All 36 trials in the field were analyzed using a linear model for both visual score and UAS predicted values on both dates. In 32 of the 36 tests on date 1 and 33 of 36 trials on date 2, the LSD associated with UAS image-based IDC scores was lower than the LSD associated with visual scores, indicating the image-based scores provided more precise measurements of IDC severity. Conclusions: Overall, the UAS was able to capture differences in IDC stress and may be used for evaluations of candidate breeding lines in a soybean breeding program. This system was both more efficient and precise than traditional scoring methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number97
JournalPlant Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 20 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge the United Soybean Board and Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council for funding this research. In addition, we thank members of the Lorenz Lab at the University of Minnesota for helping to plant, manage field plots, and take field measurements, especially Arthur Killam and Rafael Echenique. Field space was provided by Patrick and Mike O’Leary.


  • Image analysis
  • Iron deficiency chlorosis
  • Neural network
  • Random forest
  • Remote sensing
  • Soybean
  • Unmanned aircraft system (UAS)


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