For thirty years, simple crop water balance models have been used by the early warning community to monitor agricultural drought. These models estimate and accumulate actual crop evapotranspiration, evaluating environmental conditions based on crop water requirements. Unlike seasonal rainfall totals, these models take into account the phenology of the crop, emphasizing conditions during the peak grain filling phase of crop growth. In this paper we describe an analogous metric of crop performance based on time series of Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) imagery. A special temporal filter is used to screen for cloud contamination. Regional NDVI time series are then composited for cultivated areas, and adjusted temporally according to the timing of the rainy season. This adjustment standardizes the NDVI response vis-??-vis the expected phenological response of maize. A national time series index is then created by taking the cropped-area weighted average of the regional series. This national time series provides an effective summary of vegetation response in agricultural areas, and allows for the identification of NDVI green-up during grain filling. Onset-adjusted NDVI values following the grain filling period are well correlated with U.S. Department of Agriculture production figures, possess desirable linear characteristics, and perform better than more common indices such as maximum seasonal NDVI or seasonally averaged NDVI. Thus, just as appropriately calibrated crop water balance models can provide more information than seasonal rainfall totals, the appropriate agro-phenological filtering of NDVI can improve the utility and accuracy of space-based agricultural monitoring.
Additional publication details
Phenologically-tuned MODIS NDVI-based production anomaly estimates for Zimbabwe