Regional-scale monitoring of cropland intensity and productivity with multi-source satellite image time series
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In the context of growing populations and limited resources, the sustainable intensification of agricultural production is of great importance to achieve food security. As the need to support management at a range of spatial scales grows, decision-support tools appear increasingly important to enable the timely and regular assessment of agricultural production over large areas and identify priorities for improving crop production in low-productivity regions. Understanding productivity patterns requires the timely provision of gapless, spatial information about agricultural productivity. In this study, dense 30-m time series covering the 2004–2014 period were generated from Landsat and MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite images over the irrigated cropped area of the Fergana Valley, Central Asia. A light-use efficiency model was combined with machine learning classifiers to assess the crop yield at the field level. The classification accuracy of land cover maps reached 91% on average. Crop yield and acreage estimates were in good agreement (R2 = 0.812 and 0.871, respectively) with reported yields and acreages at the district level. Several indicators of cropland intensity and productivity were derived on a per-field basis and used to highlight homogeneous regions in terms of productivity by means of clustering. Results underlined that regions with lower water-use efficiency were not only located further away from irrigation canals and intake points, but also had limited access to markets and roads. The results underline that yield could be increased by roughly 1.0 and 1.4 t/ha for cotton and wheat, respectively, if the access to water would be optimized in some of the regions. The minimum calibration requirement of the method and the fusion of multi-sensor data are keys to cope with the constraints of operational crop monitoring and guarantee a sustained and timely delivery of the agricultural indicators to the user community. The results of this study can form the baseline to support regional land- and water-resource management.