Conservation agriculture for improving water productivity in Vertisols of semi-arid tropics
Large variability and uncertainty of rainfall are the main limiting factors for crop growth in rainfed agriculture. Agriculture water management interventions are considered as suitable adoption strategy to enhance crop yield, productivity and income in rainfed condition. Three-year experimental data collected at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics, Patancheru, India are analysed to study the impact of in-situ interventions (tillage and crop residue) on field water balance and grain yield under the two different cropping systems (maize + chickpea sequential and maize/pigeon pea intercropping). One dimensional water balance model is calibrated to capture field hydrology (soil water, surface runoff). Weather data calibrated for 36 years showed that incorporating crop residues reduced surface runoff by 28% compared to control fields. However, the impact of tillage and residue treatment on soil water was not consistent throughout the growing period. Water productivity values for intercropping systems (WUE = 0.61 to 1.49 kg m–3) were relatively higher compared to sequential cropping systems (WUE = 0.47 to 1.06 kg m–3). Second crop in sequential cropping system often suffered from water stress that led to poor crop yield. However, a few rain events at the end of the monsoon period were beneficial to second crop. Simulation results indicated that the conservation agriculture could save up to 30% yield loss incurred due to water stress during deficit rainfall compared to conventional agricultural practices.