Effects of variation in rainfall on rainfed crop yields and water use in dryland farming areas in China

Xiaobin Wang , Diangxiong Cai , Huijin Wu , W.B. Hoogmoed, O. Oenema

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Crop production in the dryland farming areas of northern China is constrained by low and variable rainfall. This article presents the analysis of the relationships between variations in rainfall and yields of winter wheat and spring maize. The analysis is based on data from both several short-term and our ongoing long-term field experiments in dryland farming research projects in Tunliu, Linfen, Shouyang, and Luoyang. Grain yields of wheat and maize ranged from 1,548 to 5,169 and from 2,612 to 8,789 kg ha-1 respectively, with differences up to above 200% (between dry and wet years). Wheat yields are sensitive to growing season rainfall but also correlated to water use (ET), whereas maize yields are sensitive to the critical time of water supply (especially June rainfall) but not correlated to ET. The ratio of grain yields to soil water at sowing is an important indicator, showing close relationships between yields and soil water-related ratio within the rainfed crops site. Comparison between the indices of water use efficiency (WUE) and precipitation use efficiency (PUE) suggests that the index WUE is more grain-related indicator than the PUE used for assessing rainfed crop water use by both maize and wheat. The index PUE should be used in caution, especially for wheat crops in dry years. Our results indicate that options to alleviate crop moisture stress must be tailored to the rainfall pattern. This holds especially for conservation tillage with response nutrient management practices that aim at enhancing water use efficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-24
JournalArid Land Research and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Dryland farming
  • Variation
  • Rainfall

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