Are Climate-Dependent Impacts of Soil Constraints on Crop Growth Evident in Remote-Sensing Data?

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Ulfa, F
Orton, TG
Dang, YP
Menzies, NW
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Soil constraints limit plant growth and grain yield in Australia’s grain-cropping regions, with the nature of the impact dependent on climate. In seasons with low in-crop (short for “during the crop growing season”) rainfall, soil constraints can reduce yield by limiting soil water infiltration, storage, and crop water uptake. Conversely, soil constraints can exacerbate waterlogging in seasons with high in-crop rainfall. When average in-crop rainfall is experienced, soil constraints may only have a limited impact on yields. To investigate the relationship between climate and the impact of soil constraints on crop growth, long-term time series yield information is crucial but often not available. Vegetation indices calculated from remote-sensing imagery provide a useful proxy for yield data and offer the advantages of consistent spatial coverage and long history, which are vital for assessing patterns of spatial variation that repeat over many years. This study aimed to use an index of crop growth based on the enhanced vegetation index (EVI) to assess whether and how the within-field spatial variation of crop growth differed between years with different climates (dry, moderate, and wet years, as classified based on in-crop rainfall). Five fields from the grain-growing region of eastern Australia were selected and used to assess the consistency of the spatial variation of the index for years in the same in-crop rainfall category. For four of the five fields, no evidence of patterns of climate-dependent spatial variation was found, while for the other field, there was marginal evidence of spatial variation attributable to wet years. The correlation between measured data on soil sodicity (a soil constraint that might be expected to impact crop growth most in wetter years) and average EVI was investigated for this field. The results showed a stronger negative correlation between average EVI and sodicity in wet years than in dry years, suggesting that sodicity—through its impacts on soil structure and water movement—might be a driver of the spatial variation of crop growth in wet years for this field. Our results suggest that although there may be cases when climate-dependent within-field spatial variation of crop growth is detectable through remote-sensing data (through the multi-year consistency of the within-field variation), we should not expect this to be evident for fields as a matter of course.

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Remote Sensing
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© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (
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Soil sciences
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Ulfa, F; Orton, TG; Dang, YP; Menzies, NW, Are Climate-Dependent Impacts of Soil Constraints on Crop Growth Evident in Remote-Sensing Data?, Remote Sensing, 2022, 14 (21), pp. 5401