Review of yield gap explaining factors and opportunities for alternative data collection approaches

Published on
September 5, 2016

A paper of Eskender Beza, João Vasco Silva, Lammert Kooistra and Pytrik Reidsma: Review of yield gap explaining factors and opportunities for alternative data collection approaches, has been pubished in the European Journal of Agronomy.

Yield gap analysis is gaining increased scientific attention, as estimating and explaining yield gaps shows the potential for sustainable intensification of agricultural systems. Explaining yield gaps requires detailed information about the biophysical environment, crop management as well as farm(er) characteristics and socio-economic conditions in which farmers operate. However, these types of data are not always available, mostly because they are costly to collect. The main objective of this research is to assess data availability and data collection approaches for yield gap analysis, and to summarize the yield gap explaining factors identified by previous studies. For this purpose, a review of yield gap studies (50 agronomic-based peer-reviewed articles) was performed to identify the most commonly considered and explaining factors of the yield gap. Besides a global comparison, differences between regions, crops and methods were analysed as well.

The results show that management and edaphic factors are more often considered to explain the yield gap compared to farm(er) characteristics and socio-economic factors. However, when considered, both farm(er) characteristics and socio-economic factors often explain the yield gap. Fertilization and soil fertility factors are the most often considered management and edaphic factors. In the fertilization group, factors related to quantity (e.g. N fertilizer quantity) are more often considered compared to factors related to timing (e.g. N fertilizer timing). However, when considered, timing explained the yield gap more often.

Explaining factors vary among regions and crops. For example, while soil fertility is considered relatively much both in Africa and Asia, it is often explaining in Africa, but not in Asia. Agronomic methods like crop growth simulation models are often used for yield gap analysis, but are limited in the type and number of factors that can be included. Qualitative methods based on expert knowledge can include the largest range of factors.

Although the data included in yield gap analysis also depends on the objective, knowledge of explaining factors, and methods applied, data availability is a major limiting factor. Bottom-up data collection approaches (e.g. crowdsourcing) involving agricultural communities can provide alternatives to overcome this limitation and improve yield gap analysis.

Keywords: Yield variability; Potential yield; Actual yield; Benchmarking; Crowdsourcing; Data collection