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Title: Modeled climate change impacts on subirrigated Maize yield in Northwest Ohio

item Gunn, Kpoti
item BAULE, WILLIAM - Michigan State University
item FRANKENBERGER, JANE - Purdue University
item Gamble, Debra
item Allred, Barry
item ANDRESEN, JEFF - Michigan State University
item BROWN, LARRY - The Ohio State University

Submitted to: Agricultural Water Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/27/2018
Publication Date: 6/1/2018
Publication URL:
Citation: Gunn, K.M., Baule, W.J., Frankenberger, J.R., Gamble, D.L., Allred, B.J., Andresen, J.A., Brown, L.C. 2018. Modeled climate change impacts on subirrigated Maize yield in Northwest Ohio. Agricultural Water Management. 206:56-66.

Interpretive Summary: Subirrigation is employed to supply water to crop root zones via subsurface drainage systems, which are typically installed for the purpose of removing excess soil water. Crop yield increases due to subirrigation have been demonstrated in numerous studies, but there is limited information regarding yield under future climate conditions, when growing seasons are expected to be drier in the Midwest U.S. Computer drainage simulation software, DRAINMOD, was calibrated and validated for three locations with different soil series in northwest Ohio and used to investigate relative maize yield differences between subirrigation and free subsurface drainage for historic (1984-2013) and future (2041-2070) climate conditions. For historic conditions, the mean maize yield increased by 27% with subirrigation on the Nappanee loam soil, but had minimal effect on the Paulding clay and Hoytville silty clay soils. Maize yield under free subsurface drainage is predicted to decrease in the future, causing the yield difference between free subsurface drainage and subirrigation practice to double from 9% to 16% between the historic period (1984-2013) and the future period (2041-2070). Consequently, subirrigation practice can potentially mitigate adverse future climate change impacts on maize yield in northwest Ohio.

Technical Abstract: This research was conducted with DRAINMOD to investigate the effects of subirrigation practice on maize yield under historic (1984-2013) and future (2041-2070) climate conditions, and to assess the potential implication of climate change on the impacts of subirrigation practice across northern Ohio. Upon completion of the calibration and validation of DRAINMOD, long-term simulations of free subsurface drainage and subirrigation were run with observed climate data representing historic conditions and bias-corrected projected climate data. The results of the study indicate that: during the growing season, subirrigation fields generally experienced shallower water table depths, with mean difference of 17 to 52 cm between the two field types under historic conditions and 17 to 49 cm under future conditions. During non-growing seasons, the daily water table in subirrigated fields was deeper on average than on free subsurface drainage fields, irrespective of the period (historic or future). During the non-growing season, subirrigated fields experienced larger drainage and less runoff as compared to free subsurface drainage fields, under both climate conditions, due to the smaller drain spacing. Larger drainage outflow can increase the potential for nutrient loads export. However, capturing and recycling water and nutrients as was done at these sites can be used to curb the potential adverse environmental effects of subirrigation. Drainage and runoff from subirrigated fields were larger also during growing seasons, but were largely due to the large irrigation. With subirrigation practice under historic climate conditions, average maize relative yield was 27% larger at Fulton, 2% larger at Van Wert, and unchanged at Defiance where low soil hydraulic conductivity affected the relative yield differences. The mean relative yield difference between subirrigation and free drainage will potentially double from 9% to 16% between the historic period and the future period. Climate change is not expected to impact subirrigated maize relative yields in the future, but relative yields under free subsurface drainage are expected to decline. Under historic as well as future period, the climate regime affected the relative yield: at Defiance and Van Wert, yield is lost under subirrigation practice during years with growing season precipitation above 50 cm, and is reduced at Fulton; subirrigation practice was effective at sustaining relatively high yields during dry years at Van Wert. Overall, maize relative yield increases may be associated with subirrigation practice at sites where the soil has a lower clay content and larger hydraulic conductivity than those at Defiance. At sites with high clay content and low hydraulic conductivity soils, relative yields with continuous subirrigation may be depressed under wet climate conditions. The simulations with future climate projections (2041-2070) indicated that maize relative yield will potentially drop in the future., but the practice of subirrigation may help alleviate the impacts of climate change by holding relative yields at the level observed during the historic period.