Interactive effects of water-table depth, rainfall variation, and sowing date on maize production in the Western Pampas

Published in Agricultural Water Management, v .146:75-83

Florio, E.L., Mercau, J.L., Jobbágy, E.G. and Nosetto, M.D.

Publication year 2014
  • Grupo de Estudios Ambientales, IMASL, Universidad Nacional de San Luis & CONICET, San Luis, Argentina
  • Departamento de Agronomía, FICA, UNSL, Villa Mercedes, San Luis, Argentina
  • Cátedra de Climatología Agrícola, Facultad de Ciencias Agropecuarias, Universidad Nacional de Entre Ríos, Concordia, Argentina
IAI Program


IAI Project CRN3056


Shallow water-tables strongly influence agro-ecosystems and pose difficult management challenges to farmers trying to minimize their negative effects on crops and maximize their benefits. In this paper, we evaluated how the water-table depth interacts with rainfall and sowing date to shape maize performance in the Western Pampas of Argentina. For this purpose, we analyzed the influence of water-table depth on the yields of 44 maize plots sown in early and late dates along eight growing seasons (2004&ndash2012) that we rated as dry or wet. In addition, we characterized the influence of the water-table depth on intercepted radiation and crop water status by analyzing MODIS and Landsat images, respectively. The four conditions we evaluated (early sown-dry growing season, early-wet, late-dry, late-wet) showed similar yield response curves to water-table depth, with an optimum depth range (1.5&ndash2.5 m) where yields were highest and stable (&sim11.6 Mg ha&minus1 on average). With water-table above this range, yields declined in all conditions at similar rates (p > 0.1), as well as the crop water status, as suggested by the Crop Water Stress Index, evidencing the negative effects of waterlogging. Water-tables deeper than the optimum range also caused declines of yield, intercepted radiation and crop water status, being these declines remarkably higher in early maize during dry seasons, evidencing a greater reliance of this condition on groundwater supply. Yield in areas with deep water-tables (>4 m) was significantly reduced to between a quarter and a half of yields observed in areas with optimum water-tables. Rainfall occurred around flowering had a strong impact on maize yield in areas with deep water-tables, but not in areas with optimum depth, where yields showed high temporal stability and independence from rainfall in that period. Our study confirmed the strong influence of water-table on rainfed maize and provides several guidelines to help farmers to take better decisions oriented to minimize hydrological risks and maximize the benefits of shallow water-tables.