A new multispectral index for canopy nitrogen concentration applicable across growth stages in ryegrass and barley

Manish Kumar Patel*, Dongryeol Ryu, Andrew W. Western, Glenn J. Fitzgerald, Eileen M. Perry, Helen Suter, Iain M. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Accurately monitoring Canopy Nitrogen Concentration (CNC) is a prerequisite for precision nitrogen (N) fertiliser management at the farm scale with carbon and N budgeting across the landscape and ecosystems. While many spectral indices have been proposed for CNC monitoring, their applicability and accuracy are often adversely affected by confounding factors such as aboveground biomass (AGB), crop type, growth stages, and environmental conditions, limiting their broader application and adoption; with AGB being one of the most dominant signals and confounding factors at canopy scale. The confounding effect can become more challenging as AGB is also physiologically linked with CNC across the growth stages. Additionally, the interplay between index form, selection of optimal wavebands and their bandwidths remains poorly understood for CNC index design. This study proposes robust and cost-effective 2- and 4-waveband multispectral (MS) CNC indices applicable across a wide range of crop conditions. We collected 449 canopy reflectance spectra (400–980 nm) together with corresponding CNC and AGB measurements across four growth stages of ryegrass (winter and summer), and five growth stages of barley (winter-spring) in Victoria, Australia, in 2018 and 2019. All possible waveband (400–980 nm) combinations revealed that the best combination varied between seasons and crop types. However, the visible spectrum, particularly the blue region, presented high and consistent performance. Bandwidths of 10–40 nm outperformed either very narrow (2 nm) or very broad bandwidths (80 nm). The newly developed 2-waveband index (416 and 442 nm with 10-nm bandwidth; R2 = 0.75 and NRMSE = 0.2) and 4-waveband index (512, 440, 414 and 588 nm with 40-nm bandwidth; R2 = 0.81 and NRMSE = 0.17) exhibited the best performance, while validation with an independent dataset (from a different growing period to those used in the model development) obtained NRMSE values of 0.25 and 0.24, respectively. The 4-waveband index provides enhanced performance and permits use of broader bandwidths than its 2-waveband counterpart.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)486-519
Number of pages34
JournalPrecision Agriculture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2024


  • Barley
  • Canopy nitrogen concentration
  • Multispectral index
  • Nitrogen index
  • Photochemical reflectance index (PRI)
  • Ryegrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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