Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Water Management and Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #347791

Research Project: Improving the Sustainability of Irrigated Farming Systems in Semi-Arid Regions

Location: Water Management and Systems Research

Title: Water productivity under strategic growth stage-based deficit irrigation in maize.

Author
item Comas, Louise
item Trout, Thomas
item Dejonge, Kendall
item Zhang, Huihui
item Gleason, Sean

Submitted to: Agricultural Water Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/21/2018
Publication Date: 9/24/2018
Citation: Comas, L.H., Trout, T.J., DeJonge, K.C., Zhang, H., Gleason, S.M. 2018. Water productivity under strategic growth stage-based deficit irrigation in maize. Agricultural Water Management. 212:433-440.

Interpretive Summary: Water shortages are responsible for the greatest crop losses around the world and are expected to worsen. In arid areas where agriculture is dependent on irrigation, various forms of deficit irrigation management have been suggested to achieve high yields with less water used by the crop (i.e. evapotranspiration, ET). This study of maize evaluated twelve treatments with varying levels of deficit irrigation during late vegetative and maturation (grain filling) growth stages in semi-arid Northern Colorado. In particular, application of greater deficit during the late vegetative state with full or nearly full ET during the rest of the season consistently resulted in yield similar to full water treatments while saving approximately 15-17% of water used. Maize given 40% of full water during the late vegetative period had slightly reduced photosynthetic efficiency and leaf area development with significant leaf curling, thus reduced light interception during vegetative growth. However, when plants were later fully watered during anthesis, all treatments achieved full canopy cover with no differences in light interception, and photosynthetic efficiency largely recovered. With little indication of permanent decline in carbon assimilation after reducing ET by 45% of full ET in vegetative stages, maize appears able to achieve high grain yield at the end of the season if soil water is readily available during the reproductive and maturation stages. However, plants given full or nearly full irrigation during the entire vegetative period followed by stress later on during the maturation period, had dramatically greater yield loss than ET savings. Thus, while strategic deficit irrigation shows benefit for maintaining yield with less water, it may be especially important for buffering crops against yield losses due to end of season water shortfalls in water limited environments.

Technical Abstract: Water shortages are responsible for the greatest crop losses around the world and are expected to worsen. In arid areas where agriculture is dependent on irrigation, various forms of deficit irrigation management have been suggested to achieve high yields with less water used by the crop (i.e. evapotranspiration, ET). This study of maize evaluated twelve treatments with varying levels of deficit irrigation during late vegetative and maturation (grain filling) growth stages in semi-arid Northern Colorado. In particular, application of greater deficit during the late vegetative state with full or nearly full ET during the rest of the season consistently resulted in yield similar to full ET treatments while saving approximately 15-17% of ET. Maize given 40% of full ET during the late vegetative period had slightly reduced leaf area index (LAI) with significant leaf curling, thus reduced light interception during vegetative growth. However, when plants were fully watered during anthesis, all treatments had full canopy cover with no differences in light interception. The efficiency of photosystem II (quantum yield) declined with water stress but recovered with re-watering. The ability of photosystem II and light interception to recover after stress when well-watered suggests that reductions in biomass and yield resulted from stomatal closure, reduced photochemistry, or loss of xylem conductance that was temporary. With little indication of permanent decline in carbon assimilation after reducing ET by 45% of full ET in vegetative stages, maize appears able to achieve high grain yield if soil water is readily available during the reproductive and maturation stages. However, plants given full or nearly full irrigation during the entire vegetative period followed by stress later on during the maturation period, had dramatically greater yield loss than ET savings. Thus, while strategic deficit irrigation shows benefit for maintaining yield with less water, it may be especially important for buffering crops against yield losses due to end of season water shortfalls in water limited environments.