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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 93 No. 2, p. 271-280
    Received: Jan 31, 2000

    * Corresponding author(s): hatfield@nstl.gov


Managing Soils to Achieve Greater Water Use Efficiency

  1. Jerry L. Hatfield *,
  2. Thomas J. Sauer and
  3. John H. Prueger
  1. USDA-ARS, Natl. Soil Tilth Lab., 2150 Pammel Dr., Ames, Iowa 50011


Water use efficiency (WUE) represents a given level of biomass or grain yield per unit of water used by the crop. With increasing concern about the availability of water resources in both irrigated and rainfed agriculture, there is renewed interest in trying to develop an understanding of how WUE can be improved and how farming systems can be modified to be more efficient in water use. This review and synthesis of the literature is directed toward understanding the role of soil management practices for WUE. Soil management practices affect the processes of evapotranspiration by modifying the available energy, the available water in the soil profile, or the exchange rate between the soil and the atmosphere. Plant management practices, e.g., the addition of N and P, have an indirect effect on water use through the physiological efficiency of the plant. A survey of the literature reveals a large variation in measured WUE across a range of climates, crops, and soil management practices. It is possible to increase WUE by 25 to 40% through soil management practices that involve tillage. Overall, precipitation use efficiency can be enhanced through adoption of more intensive cropping systems in semiarid environments and increased plant populations in more temperate and humid environments. Modifying nutrient management practices can increase WUE by 15 to 25%. Water use efficiency can be increased through proper management, and field-scale experiences show that these changes positively affect crop yield.

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Copyright © 2001. American Society of AgronomyPublished in Agron. J.93:271–280.