An improved water-use efficiency for winter wheat grown under reduced irrigation

Jianhua ZHANG*, Xiangzhen Sui, Bin Li, Baolin Su, Jianmin Li, Dianxi Zhou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

202 Citations (Scopus)


Single irrigation, compared to the conventional four or five irrigations, has been practised in northern China on winter wheat on a relatively large scale since 1991. In a field study, irrigation was reduced from normally four times (I4, 4 x 75 mm) to one (I1, 75 mm at the end of the second internode elongation) in an area with an annual rainfall of about 600 mm. A control without irrigation (I0) was also included. Late sowing and early soil drying at seedling stage resulted in a relatively deep root system. Leaf area index, the size of upper leaves and the length of base internodes were also significantly reduced under I1, but kernel number per panicle was not reduced, suggesting that the development of inflorescence was not disrupted. During the active grain-filling stage, it was found that leaf water potential under I1 was maintained similar to that of I4, while daytime stomatal conductance was substantially reduced. Leaf temperature was increased, indicating an inhibited leaf transpiration. Early senescence was induced in I1 and I0 crops and resulted in a substantially lower kernel weight. Although the grain yield of I1 was reduced by about 15% from I4, the water-use efficiency (WUE) for total water consumption was increased by 24-30%. Single irrigation can potentially make wheat cropping sustainable in this area in terms of water usage and prevent further depletion of the underground water resource. Explanations for the small or zero reduction in yield are: (1) the encouraging development of a deep root system that enabled the plants to use more water at depth (below 1 m), which is recharged annually by the relatively high summer rainfall. (2) A large portion of root system in the drying soil and its induced shoot physiological changes, that is, reduced leaf expansion and stomatal conductance, which helped the plants to establish a better canopy structure with a much reduced water consumption. (3) An improved harvest index.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-98
Number of pages8
JournalField Crops Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 1998

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Soil Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Soil drying irrigation
  • Water-use efficiency
  • Wheat (Triticum aestivum)


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