Eyes in the Sky, Boots on the Ground: Assessing Satellite‐ and Ground‐Based Approaches to Crop Yield Measurement and Analysis

18 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2020

See all articles by David Lobell

David Lobell

Stanford University

George Azzari

Stanford University - Department of Earth System Science and the FSE

Marshall Burke

University of California, Berkeley; Stanford University - Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

Sydney Gourlay

World Bank - Development Data Group

Zhenong Jin

Stanford University - Department of Earth System Science and the FSE

Talip Kilic

World Bank - Development Data Group (DECDG)

Siobhan Murray

World Bank

Date Written: January 2020

Abstract

Understanding the determinants of agricultural productivity requires accurate measurement of crop output and yield. In smallholder production systems across low‐ and middle‐income countries, crop yields have traditionally been assessed based on farmer‐reported production and land areas in household/farm surveys, occasionally by objective crop cuts for a sub‐section of a farmer's plot, and rarely using full‐plot harvests. In parallel, satellite data continue to improve in terms of spatial, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to discern performance on smallholder plots. This study evaluates ground‐ and satellite‐based approaches to estimating crop yields and yield responsiveness to inputs, using data on maize from Eastern Uganda. Using unique, simultaneous ground data on yields based on farmer reporting, sub‐plot crop cutting, and full‐plot harvests across hundreds of smallholder plots, we document large discrepancies among the ground‐based measures, particularly among yields based on farmer‐reporting versus sub‐plot or full‐plot crop cutting. Compared to yield measures based on either farmer‐reporting or sub‐plot crop cutting, satellite‐based yield measures explain as much or more variation in yields based on (gold‐standard) full‐plot crop cuts. Further, estimates of the association between maize yield and various production factors (e.g., fertilizer, soil quality) are similar across crop cut‐ and satellite‐based yield measures, with the use of the latter at times leading to more significant results due to larger sample sizes. Overall, the results suggest a substantial role for satellite‐based yield estimation in measuring and understanding agricultural productivity in the developing world.

Keywords: Agricultural productivity, crop yield estimation, crop cutting, maize, remote sensing, Uganda

Suggested Citation

Lobell, David and Azzari, George and Burke, Marshall and Gourlay, Sydney and Jin, Zhenong and Kilic, Talip and Murray, Siobhan, Eyes in the Sky, Boots on the Ground: Assessing Satellite‐ and Ground‐Based Approaches to Crop Yield Measurement and Analysis (January 2020). American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Vol. 102, Issue 1, pp. 202-219, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3558969 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ajae/aaz051

David Lobell (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

George Azzari

Stanford University - Department of Earth System Science and the FSE ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Marshall Burke

University of California, Berkeley ( email )

310 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Stanford University - Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Sydney Gourlay

World Bank - Development Data Group ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

Zhenong Jin

Stanford University - Department of Earth System Science and the FSE ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Talip Kilic

World Bank - Development Data Group (DECDG) ( email )

Via Labicana 110
Rome, Lazio 00184
Italy

Siobhan Murray

World Bank ( email )

1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC 20433
United States

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