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Due to its worldwide coverage and high revisit time, satellite-based remote sensing provides the ability to monitor in-season crop state variables and yields globally. In this study, we presented a novel approach to training agronomic satellite retrieval algorithms by utilizing collocated crop growth model simulations and solar-reflective satellite measurements. Specifically, we showed that bidirectional long short-term memory networks (BLSTMs) can be trained to predict the in-season state variables and yields of Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator (APSIM) maize crop growth model simulations from collocated Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) 500-m satellite measurements over the United States Corn Belt at a regional scale. We evaluated the performance of the BLSTMs through both k-fold cross validation and comparison to regional scale ground-truth yields and phenology. Using k-fold cross validation, we showed that three distinct in-season maize state variables (leaf area index, aboveground biomass, and specific leaf area) can be retrieved with cross-validated R2 values ranging from 0.4 to 0.8 for significant portions of the season. Several other plant, soil, and phenological in-season state variables were also evaluated in the study for their retrievability via k-fold cross validation. In addition, by comparing to survey-based United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) ground truth data, we showed that the BLSTMs are able to predict actual county-level yields with R2 values between 0.45 and 0.6 and actual state-level phenological dates (emergence, silking, and maturity) with R2 values between 0.75 and 0.85. We believe that a potential application of this methodology is to develop satellite products to monitor in-season field-scale crop growth on a global scale by reproducing the methodology with field-scale crop growth model simulations (utilizing farmer recorded field-scale agromanagement data) and collocated high-resolution satellite data (fused with moderate-resolution satellite data).


This article was published in Remote Sensing, available at DOI: 10.3390/rs10121968.

This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) license (



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