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