Water-use efficiency of wheat-based rotation systems in a Mediterranean environment
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Mustafa Pala, John Ryan, H Zhang, Murari Singh, H Harris. (16/11/2007). Water-use efficiency of wheat-based rotation systems in a Mediterranean environment. Agricultural Water Management, 93 (3), pp. 136-144.
Crop production in Mediterranean- type environments is invariably limited by low and erratic rainfall (200-600 mm year(-1)), and thus soil moisture, and by high evapotranspiration resulting from high temperature. Consequently, a major research challenge is to devise cropping systems that maximize water-use efficiency (WUE). In a long-term trial in northern Syria (1986-1998) we compared the effects of seven wheat-based rotations on soil water dynamics and WUE in both the wheat and non-wheat phase. The cropping systems were durum wheat (Triticum turgidum L.) in rotation with fallow, watermelon (Citrullus Vulgaris), lentil (Lens culinaris), chickpea (Cicer arietinum), vetch (Vicia sativa), medic pasture (Medicago spp.), and wheat. Seasonal recharge/discharge were identified using the neutron probe. Depth of wetting varied with seasonal rainfall (233-503 mm). Based on crop yields, WUE was calculated for each cropping option in relation to the durum wheat crop. The greatest limitation to growth was the supply of water and not the soil moisture storage potential. Wheat grain yield was dictated by the extent to which the alternative crops in the rotation dried out the soil profile, in addition to seasonal rainfall and its distribution. Chickpea and medic extracted as much water as continuous wheat. Wheat after these crops was solely dependent on current seasonal rainfall, but fallow, lentil, watermelon, and vetch did not deplete soil moisture to the same extent, leaving some residual soil moisture for the succeeding wheat crop. This difference in soil water resulted in a significant difference in wheat yield and hence WUE, which decreased in the following crop rotation sequence: fallow, medic, lentil, chickpea, and continuous wheat. However, on the system basis, the wheat/lentil or wheat/vetch systems were most efficient at using rainfall, producing 27% more grain than the wheat/fallow, while the wheat/chickpea system was as efficient as wheat/fallow system, with continuous wheat being least efficient. With N added to the cereal phase, system WUE of the system increased, being least for continuous wheat and greatest for wheat/lentil. Wheat-legume rotation systems with additional N input in the wheat phase not only can maintain sustainable production system, but also are more efficient in utilizing limited rainfall.