Vine Water Status Mapping with Multispectral UAV imagery and Machine Learning
Optimizing water management has become one of the biggest challenges for grapevine growers in California, especially during drought conditions. Monitoring grapevine water status and stress level across the whole vineyard is an essential step for precision irrigation management of vineyards to conserve water. We developed a unified machine learning model to map leaf water potential (ψleaf), by combining high-resolution multispectral remote sensing imagery and weather data. We conducted six unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights with a five-band multispectral camera from 2018 to 2020 over three commercial vineyards, concurrently with ground measurements of sampled vines. Using vegetation indices from the orthomosaiced UAV imagery and weather data as predictors, the random forest (RF) full model captured 77% of ψleaf variance, with a root mean square error (RMSE) of 0.123 MPa, and a mean absolute error (MAE) of 0.100 MPa, based on the validation datasets. Air temperature, vapor pressure deficit, and red edge indices such as the normalized difference red edge index (NDRE) were found as the most important variables in estimating ψleaf across space and time. The reduced RF models excluding weather and red edge indices explained 52–48% of ψleaf variance, respectively. Maps of the estimated ψleaf from the RF full model captured well the patterns of both within- and cross-field spatial variability and the temporal change of vine water status, consistent with irrigation management and patterns observed from the ground sampling. Our results demonstrated the utility of UAV-based aerial multispectral imaging for supplementing and scaling up the traditional point-based ground sampling of ψleaf. The pre-trained machine learning model, driven by UAV imagery and weather data, provides a cost-effective and scalable tool to facilitate data-driven precision irrigation management at individual vine levels in vineyards.