The channel-spatial attention-based vision transformer network for automated, accurate prediction of crop nitrogen status from UAV imagery

by   Xin Zhang, et al.

Nitrogen (N) fertiliser is routinely applied by farmers to increase crop yields. At present, farmers often over-apply N fertilizer in some locations or timepoints because they do not have high-resolution crop N status data. N-use efficiency can be low, with the remaining N lost to the environment, resulting in high production costs and environmental pollution. Accurate and timely estimation of N status in crops is crucial to improving cropping systems' economic and environmental sustainability. The conventional approaches based on tissue analysis in the laboratory for estimating N status in plants are time consuming and destructive. Recent advances in remote sensing and machine learning have shown promise in addressing the aforementioned challenges in a non-destructive way. We propose a novel deep learning framework: a channel-spatial attention-based vision transformer (CSVT) for estimating crop N status from large images collected from a UAV in a wheat field. Unlike the existing works, the proposed CSVT introduces a Channel Attention Block (CAB) and a Spatial Interaction Block (SIB), which allows capturing nonlinear characteristics of spatial-wise and channel-wise features from UAV digital aerial imagery, for accurate N status prediction in wheat crops. Moreover, since acquiring labeled data is time consuming and costly, local-to-global self-supervised learning is introduced to pre-train the CSVT with extensive unlabelled data. The proposed CSVT has been compared with the state-of-the-art models, tested and validated on both testing and independent datasets. The proposed approach achieved high accuracy (0.96) with good generalizability and reproducibility for wheat N status estimation.


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