U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version



Published in Agricultural Water Management.


Quantifying the local crop response to irrigation is important for establishing adequate irrigation management strategies. This study evaluated the effect of irrigation applied with subsurface drip irrigation on field corn (Zea mays L.) evapotranspiration (ETc), yield, water use efficiencies (WUE = yield/ETc, and IWUE = yield/irrigation), and dry matter production in the semiarid climate of west central Nebraska. Eight treatments were imposed with irrigation amounts ranging from 53 to 356 mmin 2005 and from 22 to 226mmin 2006. A soil water balance approach (based on FAO-56) was used to estimate daily soil water and ETc. Treatments resulted in seasonal ETc of 580–663 mm and 466–656mm in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Yields among treatments differed by as much as 22% in 2005 and 52% in 2006. In both seasons, irrigation significantly affected yields, which increased with irrigation up to a point where irrigation became excessive. Distinct relationships were obtained each season. Yields increased linearly with seasonal ETc (R2 = 0.89) and ETc/ETp (R2 = 0.87) (ETp = ETc with no water stress). The yield response factor (ky), which indicates the relative reduction in yield to relative reduction in ETc, averaged 1.58 over the two seasons. WUE increased non-linearly with seasonal ETc and with yield. WUE was more sensitive to irrigation during the drier 2006 season, compared with 2005. Both seasons, IWUE decreased sharply with irrigation. Irrigation significantly affected dry matter production and partitioning into the different plant components (grain, cob, and stover). On average, the grain accounted for the majority of the above-ground plant dry mass (≈59%), followed by the stover (≈33%) and the cob (≈8%). The dry mass of the plant and that of each plant component tended to increase with seasonal ETc. The good relationships obtained in the study between crop performance indicators and seasonal ETc demonstrate that accurate estimates of ETc on a daily and seasonal basis can be valuable for making tactical in-season irrigation management decisions and for strategic irrigation planning and management.