Introducing exceptional growth mining: Analyzing the impact of soil characteristics on on-farm crop growth and yield variability

Puck J.A.M. Mulders (Corresponding author), Edwin R. van den Heuvel, Pytrik Reidsma, Wouter Duivesteijn

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Sustainable intensification of agriculture requires understanding of the effect of soil characteristics and nutrient supply on crop growth. As farms are increasing in size by acquiring small fields from various farmers, the soil characteristics and nutrient supply might be very different from field to field, while at the same time specific soil properties might limit the nutrient uptake. As a result, there might be a large number of heterogeneous reasons why crop growth varies significantly. New data analysis techniques can help to explain variability in crop growth among fields. This paper introduces Exceptional Growth Mining (EGM) as a first contribution. EGM instantiates the data mining framework Exceptional Model Mining (EMM) such that subgroups of fields can be found that grow exceptionally in terms of three growth parameters (high/low maximum growth, steep/flat linear growth and early/late midpoint of maximum growth). As second contribution, we apply EGM to a case study by analyzing the dataset of a potato farm in the south of the Netherlands. EGM consists of (i) estimating growth curves by applying nonlinear mixed models, (ii) investigating the correlation between the estimated growth parameters, and (iii) applying EMM on these growth curve parameters using a growth curve-specific quality measure. By applying EGM on the data of the potato farm, we obtain the following results: 1) the estimated growth curves represent the variability in potato tuber growth very well (R2 of 0.92), 2) the steepness of the growth curve has a strong correlation with the maximum growth and the midpoint of maximum growth, and the correlation between the midpoint of maximum growth and maximum growth is weak, 3) the subgroup analyses indicate that: high values of K correspond to high maxima; low values of K correspond to low maxima, steep growth curves’, and a late midpoint of halfway growth; Mg influences the midpoint of the growth curve; values of B are higher on dry soils with high tuber growth, while low values of B are found on wet soils with high tuber growth; high values of Zn, Mn, and Fe are found in subgroups with low tuber weight, probably related to the soil’s low pH. In summary, this paper introduces EGM to obtain understanding in crop response to soil properties and nutrient supply. In addition, EGM provides a way to analyze only small parts of a large dataset, such that the impact of soil factors on growth can be analyzed on a more detailed level than existing methods.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0296684
Number of pages26
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


Funding: This work is part of the OPZuid project “Proeftuin voor Precisielandbouw”, funded by the European Regional De- velopment Fund, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the province of Noord-Brabant. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

FundersFunder number
Ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat


    • Soil/chemistry
    • Farms
    • Agriculture/methods
    • Nutrients
    • Netherlands


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