Phenological corrections to a field-scale, ET-based crop stress indicator: An application to yield forecasting across the U.S. Corn Belt

Yang Yang, Martha C. Anderson, Feng Gao, David M. Johnson, Yun Yang, Liang Sun, Wayne Dulaney, Christopher R. Hain, Jason A. Otkin, John Prueger, Tilden P. Meyers, Carl J. Bernacchi, Caitlin E. Moore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Soil moisture deficiency is a major factor in determining crop yields in water-limited agricultural production regions. Evapotranspiration (ET), which consists of crop water use through transpiration and water loss through direct soil evaporation, is a good indicator of soil moisture availability and vegetation health. ET therefore has been an integral part of many yield estimation efforts. The Evaporative Stress Index (ESI) is an ET-based crop stress indicator that describes temporal anomalies in a normalized evapotranspiration metric as derived from satellite remote sensing. ESI has demonstrated the capacity to explain regional yield variability in water-limited regions. However, its performance in some regions where the vegetation cycle is intensively managed appears to be degraded due to interannual phenological variability. This investigation selected three study sites across the U.S. Corn Belt – Mead, NE, Ames, IA and Champaign, IL – to investigate the potential operational value of 30-m resolution, phenologically corrected ESI datasets for yield prediction. The analysis was conducted over an 8-year period from 2010 to 2017, which included both drought and pluvial conditions as well as a broad range in yield values. Detrended yield anomalies for corn and soybean were correlated with ESI computed using annual ET curves temporally aligned based on (1) calendar date, (2) crop emergence date, and (3) a growing degree day (GDD) scaled time axis. Results showed that ESI has good correlations with yield anomalies at the county scale and that phenological corrections to the annual temporal alignment of the ET timeseries improve the correlation, especially when the time axis is defined by GDD rather than the calendar date. Peak correlations occur in the silking stage for corn and the reproductive stage for soybean – phases when these crops are particularly sensitive to soil moisture deficiencies. Regression equations derived at the time of peak correlation were used to estimate yields at county scale using a leave-one-out cross-validation strategy. The ESI-based yield estimates agree well with the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) county-level crop yield data, with correlation coefficients ranging from 0.79 to 0.93 and percent root-mean-square errors of 5–8%. These results demonstrate that remotely sensed ET at high spatiotemporal resolution can convey valuable water stress information for forecasting crop yields across the Corn Belt if interannual phenological variability is considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number112337
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Corn Belt
  • Evapotranspiration (ET)
  • Phenology
  • Yield
  • evaporative stress index (ESI)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Phenological corrections to a field-scale, ET-based crop stress indicator: An application to yield forecasting across the U.S. Corn Belt'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this