The use of satellite data for crop yield gap analysis

Field experiments and simulation models are useful tools for understanding crop yield gaps, but scaling up these approaches to understand entire regions over time has remained a considerable challenge. Satellite data have repeatedly been shown to provide information that, by themselves or in combination with other data and models, can accurately measure crop yields in farmers’ fields. The resulting yield maps provide a unique opportunity to overcome both spatial and temporal scaling challenges and thus improve understanding of crop yield gaps. This review discusses the use of remote sensing to measure the magnitude and causes of yield gaps. Examples from previous work demonstrate the utility of remote sensing, but many areas of possible application remain unexplored. Two simple yet useful approaches are presented that measure the persistence of yield differences between fields, which in combination with maps of average yields can be used to direct further study of specific factors. Whereas the use of remote sensing may have historically been restricted by the cost and availability of fine resolution data, this impediment is rapidly receding.


  • Satellite data can help overcome spatial and temporal scaling issues that challenge simulation and experiment based analyses of yield gaps.
  • Yield gap profiles, based on multiple years of satellite data, provide a useful measure of how persistent yield-controlling factors are through time.
  • Satellite data capable of discriminating crop yields on individual fields are more available and affordable than ever.

The article is part of a special issue on crop yield gap analysis.