AbstractCrop planting dates are a dynamic feature of agricultural systems that respond to short- and long-term climate signals, crop and cultivar selection, and technology changes. Planting date records are essential for yield gap analyses, accurate crop modeling, and tracking farmer adaptations to weather and climate change. Although planting dates have high variation at local scales due to heterogeneity in farm resources and decision-making, available long-term data on planting dates is largely restricted to aggregated regional statistics or, at best, satellite-derived datasets with limited spatiotemporal extent and at resolutions unable to distinguish individual fields (> 250 m). Here, we generated retrospective annual field-scale (30 m) planting date maps for both maize and soybeans spanning 2000-2020 across a 12 state region in the United States Corn Belt based on Landsat satellite data and a large ground sample of over 28,000 maize and soybean fields. Using training data from 2015-2020 for model selection, we found that planting date predictions improved with harmonic regression of Landsat data and additional annual weather covariates. The preferred random forests model approximately doubled performance compared to a null model based on state median planting dates, capturing 47% of field-level variation for maize (mean absolute error, MAE = 7.4 days) and 44% for soybeans (MAE = 7.5 days) against held-out ground truth test data for 2008-2014. We also evaluated the full 2000-2020 dataset with state agricultural statistics, finding strong agreement with median planting dates for maize (R2 = 0.76, MAE = 4.4 days) and slightly lower agreement for soybeans (R2 = 0.65, MAE = 5.4 days) when aggregated to the state level. We then used this new dataset to analyze environmental determinants of planting dates at a finer-scale than previously possible, controlling for unobserved variation at the sub-state district level. We found that during 2000-2020, each standard deviation increase in rainfall delayed planting by ~ 2.5 days, and fields with higher soil productivity ratings tended to be planted earlier. We did not find meaningful trends over the last two decades in planting dates for maize or soybeans, in contrast to trends towards earlier planting dates late last century and predicted for this period in climate adaptation studies. We hypothesize increases in early season rainfall may have inhibited these shifts towards earlier planting. Remotely sensed planting dates will be a useful tool for yield gap analyses, crop simulation modeling, and ongoing assessment of climate adaptation.
Published: April 19, 2023