Optimizing single irrigation scheme to improve water use efficiency by manipulating winter wheat sink-source relationships in Northern China Plain.

Research paper by Xuexin X Xu, Yinghua Y Zhang, Jinpeng J Li, Meng M Zhang, Xiaonan X Zhou, Shunli S Zhou, Zhimin Z Wang

Indexed on: 09 Mar '18Published on: 09 Mar '18Published in: PloS one


Improving winter wheat grain yield and water use efficiency (WUE) with minimum irrigation is very important for ensuring agricultural and ecological sustainability in the Northern China Plain (NCP). A three-year field experiment was conducted to determine how single irrigation can improve grain yield and WUE by manipulating the "sink-source" relationships. To achieve this, no-irrigation after sowing (W0) as a control, and five single irrigation treatments after sowing (75 mm of each irrigation) were established. They included irrigation at upstanding (WU), irrigation at jointing (WJ), irrigation at booting (WB), irrigation at anthesis (WA) and irrigation at medium milk (WM). Results showed that compared with no-irrigation after sowing (W0), WU, WJ, WB, WA and WM significantly improved mean grain yield by 14.1%, 19.9%, 17.9%, 11.6%, and 7.5%, respectively. WJ achieved the highest grain yield (8653.1 kg ha-1) and WUE (20.3 kg ha-1 mm-1), and WB observed the same level of grain yield and WUE as WJ. In comparison to WU, WJ and WB coordinated pre- and post-anthesis water use while reducing pre-anthesis and total evapotranspiration (ET). They also retained higher soil water content above 180 cm soil layers at anthesis, increased post-anthesis water use, and ultimately increased WUE. WJ and WB optimized population quantity and individual leaf size, delayed leaf senescence, extended grain-filling duration, improved post-anthesis biomass and biomass remobilization (source supply capacity) as well as post-anthesis biomass per unit anthesis leaf area (PostBA-leaf ratio). WJ also optimized the allocation of assimilation, increased the spike partitioning index (SPI, spike biomass/biomass at anthesis) and grain production efficiency (GPE, the ratio of grain number to biomass at anthesis), thus improved mean sink capacity by 28.1%, 5.7%, 21.9%, and 26.7% in comparison to W0, WU, WA and WM, respectively. Compared with WA and WM, WJ and WB also increased sink capacity, post-anthesis biomass and biomass remobilization. These results demonstrated that single irrigation at jointing or booting could improve grain yield and WUE via coordinating the "source-sink" relationships with the high sink capacity and source supply capacity. Therefore, we propose that under adequate soil moisture conditions before sowing, single irrigation scheme from jointing to booting with 75 mm irrigation amount is the optimal minimum irrigation practice for wheat production in this region.