Author ORCID Identifier
Britta L. Schumacher https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0621-673X
Emily K. Burchfield https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0459-6270
Brennan Bean https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2853-0455
Matt A. Yost https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5012-8481
Accurate yield information empowers farmers to adapt, their governments to adopt timely agricultural and food policy interventions, and the markets they supply to prepare for production shifts. Unfortunately, the most representative yield data in the US, provided by the US Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) Surveys, are spatiotemporally patchy and inconsistent. This paper builds a more complete data product by examining the spatiotemporal efficacy of random forests (RF) in predicting county-level yields of corn – the most widely cultivated crop in the US. To meet our objective, we compare RF cross-validated prediction accuracy using several combinations of explanatory variables. We also utilize variable importance measures and partial dependence plots to compare and contextualize how key variables interact with corn yield. Results suggest that RF predicts US corn yields well using a relatively small subset of climate variables along with year and geographical location (RMSE = 17.1 bushels/acre (1.2 tons/hectare)). Of note is the insensitivity of RF prediction accuracy when removing variables traditionally thought to be predictive of yield or variables flagged as important by RF variable importance measures. Understanding what variables are needed to accurately predict corn yields provides a template for applying machine learning approaches to estimate county-level yields for other US crops.
Schumacher, B.L.; Burchfield, E.K.; Bean, B.; Yost, M.A. Leveraging Important Covariate Groups for Corn Yield Prediction. Agriculture 2023, 13, 618. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture13030618