Plant diseases can impact crop yield. Thus, the detection of plant diseases using sensors that can be mounted on aerial vehicles is in the interest of farmers to support decision-making in integrated pest management and to breeders for selecting tolerant or resistant genotypes. This paper investigated the detection of Cercospora leaf spot (CLS), caused by Cercospora beticola
in sugar beet using RGB imagery. We proposed an approach to tackle the CLS detection problem using fully convolutional neural networks, which operate directly on RGB images captured by a UAV. This efficient approach does not require complex multi- or hyper-spectral sensors, but provides reliable results and high sensitivity. We provided a detection pipeline for pixel-wise semantic segmentation of CLS symptoms, healthy vegetation, and background so that our approach can automatically quantify the grade of infestation. We thoroughly evaluated our system using multiple UAV datasets recorded from different sugar beet trial fields. The dataset consisted of a training and a test dataset and originated from different fields. We used it to evaluate our approach under realistic conditions and analyzed its generalization capabilities to unseen environments. The obtained results correlated to visual estimation by human experts significantly. The presented study underlined the potential of high-resolution RGB imaging and convolutional neural networks for plant disease detection under field conditions. The demonstrated procedure is particularly interesting for applications under practical conditions, as no complex and cost-intensive measuring system is required.
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