WATER MANAGEMENT STRATEGIES UNDER DEFICIT IRRIGATION
AbstractDeficit irrigation (DI) is an optimization strategy whereby net returns are maximized by reducing the amount of irrigation water; crops are deliberated allowed to sustain some degree of water deficit and yield reduction. Although the DI strategy dates back to the 1970s, this technique is not usually adopted as a practical alternative to full irrigation by either academics or practitioners. Furthermore, there is a certain amount of confusion regarding its concept. In fact, a review of recent literature dealing with DI has shown that only a few papers use the concept of DI in its complete sense (e.g. both the agronomic and economic aspects). A number of papers only deal with the physiological and agronomical aspects of DI or concern techniques such as Regulated Deficit Irrigation (RDI) and Partial Root Drying (PRD). The paper includes two main parts: i) a review of the principal water management strategies under deficit conditions (e.g. conventional DI, RDI and PRD); and ii) a description of a recent experimental research conducted by the authors in Sicily (Italy) that integrates agronomic, engineering and economic aspects of DI at farm level. Most of the literature reviewed here showed, in general, quite positive effects from DI application, mostly evidenced when the economics of DI is included in the research approach. With regard to the agronomic effects, total fresh mass and total production is generally reduced under DI, whereas the effects on dry matter and product quality are positive, mainly in crops for which excessive soil water availability can cause significant reductions in fruit size, colour or composition (grapes, tomatoes, mangos, etc.). The experimental trial on a lettuce crop in Sicily, during 2005 and 2006, shows that the highest mean marketable yield of lettuce (55.3 t ha-1 in 2005 and 51.9 t ha-1 in 2006) was recorded in plots which received 100% of ET0-PM (reference evapotranspiration by the Penman- Monteith method) applied water. In the land-limiting case, the estimated optimal economic levels were quite similar to the optimal agronomic levels. In the waterlimiting case DI ranges, at least as profitable as full irrigation, were of 17-49% ET0-PM and of 71-90% ET0-PM in 2005 and 2006 respectively.
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