Deep learning presents many opportunities for image-based plant phenotyping. Here we consider the capability of deep convolutional neural networks to perform the leaf counting task. Deep learning techniques typically require large and diverse datasets to learn generalizable models without providing a priori an engineered algorithm for performing the task. This requirement is challenging, however, for applications in the plant phenotyping field, where available datasets are often small and the costs associated with generating new data are high. In this work we propose a new method for augmenting plant phenotyping datasets using rendered images of synthetic plants. We demonstrate that the use of high-quality 3D synthetic plants to augment a dataset can improve performance on the leaf counting task. We also show that the ability of the model to generate an arbitrary distribution of phenotypes mitigates the problem of dataset shift when training and testing on different datasets. Finally, we show that real and synthetic plants are significantly interchangeable when training a neural network on the leaf counting task.
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