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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Water Management and Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #348974

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

Location: Water Management and Systems Research

Title: Maximizing the value of limited irrigation water: USDA researchers study how producers on limited irrigation can save water and be profitable

item Comas, Louise
item Gleason, Sean
item DeJonge, Kendall
item Zhang, Huihui

Submitted to: Colorado State University Newsletter
Publication Type: Other
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/3/2016
Publication Date: 8/1/2016
Citation: Comas, L.H., Gleason, S.M., DeJonge, K.C., Zhang, H. 2016. Maximizing the value of limited irrigation water: USDA researchers study how producers on limited irrigation can save water and be profitable. Colorado State University Newsletter. 1(1):1-4.

Interpretive Summary:

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 optimize crop yields for available soil water. The relationship between crop yield and evapotranspiration (ET) of many crops is linear. In crops such as maize, this relationship is also steeply sloped, providing especially limited capacity to save ET without yield losses. Results from seasonally-varied strategic application of deficit irrigation suggest potential for optimizing crop yields under limited soil water. Maize given 40% of full ET during the late vegetative stage has reduced plant height and increased root growth with little effect on leaf area index (LAI). Maize has extremely high water use efficiency (WUE) and conservative hydraulic control (e.g. stomatal closure under drought stress). Maximum hydraulic conductance per unit leaf area was similar in full and deficit irrigation treatments, suggesting that reductions in biomass resulted from xylem dysfunction, stomatal closure, or photochemistry. With little indication of permanent decline in carbon assimilation down to 40% of full ET, both maize and sunflower appear able to buffer grain yield reductions if soil water is available during the reproductive and maturation stages. In contrast, treatments with similar annual ET but water deficits during seed fill resulted in considerable yield losses. This data shows that seasonal timing of application matters for effective use of irrigation water.