Socio-psychological and management drivers explain farm level wheat yield gaps in Australia

  • Airong ZhangEmail author
  • Zvi Hochman
  • Heidi Horan
  • Javier Garcia Navarro
  • Bianca Tara Das
  • François Waldner
Research Article


Achieving sustainable global food security for a rapidly growing world population is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Producing more food efficiently by closing the yield gaps is regarded as a promising solution to address this challenge without further expanding farming land. However, there is limited understanding of the causes contributing to yield gaps. The present study aimed to comprehensively examine three dimensions of the causes for the wheat yield gaps in Australia: farm management practices, farm characteristics and grower characteristics. Computer-assisted telephone interviews of 232 wheat producers from 14 contrasting local areas were conducted. The data collected on these three dimensions were used to develop a comprehensive framework to understand causes of yield gaps. Results reveal significant differences between farms with smaller yield gaps and those with greater yield gaps in relation to farming management as well as farm and grower characteristics. Findings further underline that farms with smaller yield gaps are likely to be smaller holdings growing less wheat on more favourable soil types, are more likely to apply more N fertiliser, to have a greater crop diversity, to soil-test a greater proportion of their fields, to have fewer resistant weeds, to adopt new technologies, and are less likely to grow wheat following either cereal crops or a pasture. They are more likely to use and trust a fee-for-service agronomist, and have a university education. The dynamic relationships between grower characteristics and farm management practices in causing yield gaps are further highlighted through a path analysis. This study is the first to demonstrate that yield gaps are the result of the intertwined dynamics between biophysical factors, grower socio-psychological characteristics and farm management practices. Socio-psychological factors not only directly contribute to yield gaps, but they also influence farm management practices that in turn contribute to yield gaps. Our findings suggest that, to close wheat yield gaps, it is important to develop integrated strategies that address both socio-psychological and farm management dimensions.


Crop management Nitrogen fertiliser Soil type Wheat Consulting services Crop rotation Technology adoption 



This research was jointly funded by GRDC (Grains Research and Development Corporation) and CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Corporation). We gratefully acknowledge the expert advice provided by Jan Edwards and Alan Umbers of GRDC as well as by Pam Watson, CEO of Down To Earth Research, who conducted the interviews. Rick Llewellyn and Marta Monjardino of CSIRO made useful suggestions about the survey questions. We thank Lygia Romanach and Robert Garrard of CSIRO and three anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© INRA and Springer-Verlag France SAS, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Health & BiosecurityCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganisationQLDAustralia
  2. 2.Agriculture & FoodCommonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research OrganisationQLDAustralia

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