Climatic or technological ceilings could cause yield stagnation. Thus, identifying the principal reasons for yield stagnation within the context of the local climate and socio-economic conditions are essential for informing regional agricultural policies. In this study, we identified the climatic and technological ceilings for seven rice-production regions in China based on yield gaps and on a yield trend pattern analysis for the period 1980–2010. The results indicate that 54.9% of the counties sampled experienced yield stagnation since the 1980. The potential yield ceilings in northern and eastern China decreased to a greater extent than in other regions due to the accompanying climate effects of increases in temperature and decreases in radiation. This may be associated with yield stagnation and halt occurring in approximately 49.8–57.0% of the sampled counties in these areas. South-western China exhibited a promising scope for yield improvement, showing the greatest yield gap (30.6%), whereas the yields were stagnant in 58.4% of the sampled counties. This finding suggests that efforts to overcome the technological ceiling must be given priority so that the available exploitable yield gap can be achieved. North-eastern China, however, represents a noteworthy exception. In the north-central area of this region, climate change has increased the yield potential ceiling, and this increase has been accompanied by the most rapid increase in actual yield: 1.02 ton ha−1 per decade. Therefore, north-eastern China shows a great potential for rice production, which is favoured by the current climate conditions and available technology level. Additional environmentally friendly economic incentives might be considered in this region.
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