Maize yield has undergone obvious spatial and temporal changes in recent decades in Northeast China. Understanding how maize potential yield has changed over the past few decades and how large the gaps between potential and actual maize yields are is essential for increasing maize yield to meet increased food demand in Northeast China. In this study, the spatial and temporal dynamics of maize potential yield in Northeast China from 1990 to 2015 were simulated using the Global Agro-ecological Zones (GAEZ) model at the pixel level firstly. Then, the yield gaps between actual and potential yields were analyzed at city scale. The results were the following. (1) The maize potential yield decreased by about 500 kg/ha and the potential production remained at around 260 million tonnes during 1990–2000. From 2000 to 2015, the maize potential yield and production increased by approximately 1000 kg/ha and 80 million tonnes, respectively. (2) The maize potential yield decreased in most regions of Northeast China in the first decade, such as the center area (CA), south area (SA), southwest area (SWA), and small regions in northeast area (NEA), due to lower temperature and insufficient rainfall. The maize potential yield increased elsewhere. (3) The maize potential yield increased by more than 1000 kg/ha in the center area (CA) in the latter 15 years, which may be because of the climate warming and sufficient precipitation. The maize potential yield decreased elsewhere and Harbin in the center area (CA). (4) In 40 cities of Northeast China, the rates of actual yield to potential yield in 17 cities were higher than 80%. The actual yields only attained 50–80% of the potential yields in 20 cities. The gaps between actual and potential yields in Hegang and Dandong were very large, which need to be shrunk urgently. The results highlight the importance of coping with climate change actively, arranging crop structure reasonably, improving farmland use efficiency and ensuring food security in Northeast China.
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