Managing controlled drainage in irrigated farmers’ fields: A case study in the Moghan plain, Iran

Hamidreza J. Jouni, Abdolmajid Liaghat, Alireza Hassanoghli, Ritzema Henk*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Conventional free subsurface drainage practices in the Moghan Plan, in northwest Iran, result in low irrigation efficiency and excessive volumes of drainage water causing extensive environmental problems. Controlled drainage (CD) is promoted to boost crop yields and reduce subsurface drainage flows and leaching of nutrients. This study was conducted to test management options for CD in irrigated farmers’ fields in the Moghan plain. Three options were tested: subsurface drains at 2 m with free outflow (FD), controlled drainage at 70 cm below soil surface (CD70) and controlled drainage with a varying depth depending on the crop stage (CDch). Irrigation gifts were based on the daily measured soil water content and thus varied per drainage treatment. In winter, wheat and barley were grown followed by maize in summer. For each crop and treatment, three replicates were made. The highest crop yields (for all crops) were found with CDch, followed by CD70. For wheat, the yields were respectively 27% and 41% higher in the CD70 and CDch compared to FD. For barley these increase was respectively 23% (CD70) and 34% (CDch) and for maize (forage yields) 19% (CD70) and 25% (CDch). The same trends were observed in water use efficiencies (WUE): compared to FD, the WUE was 26% in CD70 and 40% higher in CDch; for barley these increases were respectively 19% (CD70) and 32% (CDch), and for maize (forage yields) 30% (CD70) and 44% (CDch). Controlled drainage not only reduced subsurface drainage rates, but also nitrate and phosphorous losses. The average drain discharges with CDch were respectively 33%, 45% and 44% lower than FD for wheat, barley and maize. Flow-weighted NO3 concentration in drainage discharge of CD70 and CDch were, respectively, 15% and 9% for wheat, 9% and 13% for barley, and 8% and 7% for maize lower than in FD. Soil salinity decreased in FD, but slightly increased in the CD treatments. Thus, although controlled drainage clearly has advantages above free drainage practices, to optimize CD management options, more research is needed on the long-term effects of controlled drainage on soil salinity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)393-405
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2018


  • Controlled drainage
  • Crop yield
  • Leaching
  • Nutrients
  • Soil salinity


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