Farming systems: explaining yield gaps and resource use efficiency

Yield gaps and resource use (in-)efficiencies (RUEs) are typically assessed at field level. For regional assessments these are generally directly up-scaled, whilst in the real world they are explained by a range of factors that intersect and are integrated at farming systems level.

Farmers take decisions as to field, crop and livestock management given their access to knowledge and information, personal circumstances, and in the context of the broader socioeconomic, institutional and political environment. This project proposes a novel and generic methodology to understand and explain existing yield gaps and RUEs across farming systems. Comparative analysis of best, average and worst performing farms using frontier analysis will be combined with theory and information on production ecology to explore options for sustainable intensification. The analysis will be enriched using three case studies which are under different phases of agricultural development and, where possible, both the past and possible future dynamics will be analyzed.

The innovativeness of this research is that a mix of agronomic and economic methods will be used, which allows us to make use of the richness of individual farm level data in addition to regional data. Production ecological concepts will be integrated into the economic methods, allowing assessment of yield gaps and resource use efficiencies from an agronomic perspective. We will assess the influence of regional conditions, farm and farmer characteristics as well as the resulting management. Case studies include arable farming in Europe, irrigated rice-based farming in the Philippines and Vietnam, and mixed crop-livestock farming in West-Africa.

Research Objectives

The overarching question that will be addressed is essentially methodological:

What combination of methods can best be deployed to unravel the relative contribution of biophysical constraints versus constraints at other levels to current yield gaps across contrasting farming systems?

We will develop a generic method and test this method in three contrasting case studies, with the specific objectives to:

  1. Establish yield gaps and RUEs of different farm types using crop simulation models and approaches of frontier analysis;
  2. Estimate and explain current variability in yield and RUE of land, water, nutrients, labour and capital across different farm types;
  3. Use a design and re-design cycle to explore options for sustainable intensification by alleviating constraints to improving production and resource use efficiency through comparative studies across farming systems at different stages of intensification.