High-yield agriculture potentially reduces pressure on forests by requiring less land to increase production. Using satellite and field data, we assessed the area deforested by industrial-scale high-yield oil palm expansion in the Peruvian Amazon from 2000 to 2010, finding that 72% of new plantations expanded into forested areas. In a focus area in the Ucayali region, we assessed deforestation for high- and smallholder low-yield oil palm plantations. Low-yield plantations accounted for most expansion overall (80%), but only 30% of their expansion involved forest conversion, contrasting with 75% for high-yield expansion.High-yield expansion minimized the total area required to achieve production but counter-intuitively at higher expense to forests than low-yield plantations. The results show that high-yield agriculture is an important but insufficient strategy to reduce pressure on forests. We suggest that high-yield agriculture can be effective in sparing forests only if coupled with incentives for agricultural expansion into already cleared lands.