Corn yields vary spatially and temporally in the plots as a result of weather, altitude, variety, plant density, available water, nutrients, and planting date; these are the main factors that influence crop yield. In this study, different multispectral and red-green-blue (RGB) vegetation indices
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Corn yields vary spatially and temporally in the plots as a result of weather, altitude, variety, plant density, available water, nutrients, and planting date; these are the main factors that influence crop yield. In this study, different multispectral and red-green-blue (RGB) vegetation indices were analyzed, as well as the digitally estimated canopy cover and plant density, in order to estimate corn grain yield using a neural network model. The relative importance of the predictor variables was also analyzed. An experiment was established with five levels of nitrogen fertilization (140, 200, 260, 320, and 380 kg/ha) and four replicates, in a completely randomized block design, resulting in 20 experimental polygons. Crop information was captured using two sensors (Parrot Sequoia_4.9, and DJI FC6310_8.8) mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for two flight dates at 47 and 79 days after sowing (DAS). The correlation coefficient between the plant density, obtained through the digital count of corn plants, and the corn grain yield was 0.94; this variable was the one with the highest relative importance in the yield estimation according to Garson’s algorithm. The canopy cover, digitally estimated, showed a correlation coefficient of 0.77 with respect to the corn grain yield, while the relative importance of this variable in the yield estimation was 0.080 and 0.093 for 47 and 79 DAS, respectively. The wide dynamic range vegetation index (WDRVI), plant density, and canopy cover showed the highest correlation coefficient and the smallest errors (R = 0.99, mean absolute error (MAE) = 0.028 t ha−1
, root mean square error (RMSE) = 0.125 t ha−1
) in the corn grain yield estimation at 47 DAS, with the WDRVI index and the density being the variables with the highest relative importance for this crop development date. For the 79 DAS flight, the combination of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), normalized difference red edge (NDRE), WDRVI, excess green (EXG), triangular greenness index (TGI), and visible atmospherically resistant index (VARI), as well as plant density and canopy cover, generated the highest correlation coefficient and the smallest errors (R = 0.97, MAE = 0.249 t ha−1
, RMSE = 0.425 t ha−1
) in the corn grain yield estimation, where the density and the NDVI were the variables with the highest relative importance, with values of 0.295 and 0.184, respectively. However, the WDRVI, plant density, and canopy cover estimated the corn grain yield with acceptable precision (R = 0.96, MAE = 0.209 t ha−1
, RMSE = 0.449 t ha−1
). The generated neural network models provided a high correlation coefficient between the estimated and the observed corn grain yield, and also showed acceptable errors in the yield estimation. The spectral information registered through remote sensors mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles and its processing in vegetation indices, canopy cover, and plant density allowed the characterization and estimation of corn grain yield. Such information is very useful for decision-making and agricultural activities planning.