Dryland maize yields and water use efficiency in response to tillage/crop stubble and nutrient management practices in China

X.B. Wang, K. Dai, D. Zhang, X. Zhang, Y. Wang, Q. Zhao, D.X. Cai, W.B. Hoogmoed, O. Oenema

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55 Citations (Scopus)


Rainfed crop production in northern China is constrained by low and variable rainfall. This study explored the effects of tillage/crop residue and nutrient management practices on maize (Zea mays L.) yield, water use efficiency (WUE), and N agronomic use efficiency (NAE) at Shouyang Dryland Farming Experimental Station in northern China during 2003–2008. The experiment was set-up using a split-plot design with 3 tillage/crop residue methods as main treatments: conventional, reduced (till with crop residue incorporated in fall but no-till in spring), and no-till (with crop residue mulching in fall). Sub-treatments were 3 NP fertilizer rates: 105–46, 179–78 and 210–92 kg N and P ha-1. Maize grain yields were greatly influenced by the growing season rainfall and soil water contents at sowing. Mean grain yields over the 6-year period in response to tillage/crop residue treatments were 5604, 5347 and 5185 kg ha-1, under reduced, no-till and conventional tillage, respectively. Grain yields under no-till, were generally higher (+19%) in dry years but lower (-7%) in wet years. Mean WUE was 13.7, 13.6 and 12.6 kg ha-1 mm-1 under reduced, no-till, and conventional tillage, respectively. The no-till treatment had 8–12% more water in the soil profiles than the conventional and reduced tillage treatments at sowing and harvest time. Grain yields, WUE and NAE were highest with the lowest NP fertilizer application rates (at 105 kg N and 46 kg P ha-1) under reduced tillage, while yields and WUE tended to be higher with additional NP fertilizer rates under conventional tillage, however, there was no significant yield increase above the optimum fertilizer rate. In conclusion, maize grain yields, WUE and NAE were highest under reduced tillage at modest NP fertilizer application rates of 105 kg N and 46 kg P ha-1. No-till increased soil water storage by 8–12% and improved WUE compared to conventional tillage, thus showing potentials for drought mitigation and economic use of fertilizers in drought-prone rainfed conditions in northern China.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-57
JournalField Crops Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • reduced tillage
  • northern china
  • conservation tillage
  • nitrogen losses
  • prone savannas
  • crop residue
  • soil
  • fertilizer
  • agriculture
  • systems

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