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Effect of diversified crop rotations on groundwater levels and crop water productivity in the North China Plain

Yang, Xiaolin, Chen, Yuanquan, Pacenka, Steven, Gao, Wangsheng, Ma, Li, Wang, Guangya, Yan, Peng, Sui, Peng, Steenhuis, Tammo S.
Journal of hydrology 2015 v.522 pp. 428-438
corn, cotton, crop rotation, double cropping, evapotranspiration, farmers, field experimentation, food security, groundwater, income, irrigated farming, irrigation, models, soil water balance, water shortages, water table, water use efficiency, China
Water shortage is the major bottleneck that limits sustainable yield of agriculture in the North China Plain. Due to the over-exploitation of groundwater for irrigating the winter wheat–summer maize double cropping systems, a groundwater crisis is becoming increasingly serious. To help identify more efficient and sustainable utilization of the limited water resources, the water consumption and water use efficiency of five irrigated cropping systems were calculated and the effect of cropping systems on groundwater table changes was estimated based on a long term field experiment from 2003 to 2013 in the North China Plain interpreted using a soil–water-balance model. The five cropping systems included sweet potato→cotton→sweet potato→winter wheat–summer maize (SpCSpWS, 4-year cycle), ryegrass–cotton→peanuts→winter wheat–summer maize (RCPWS, 3-year cycle), peanuts→winter wheat–summer maize (PWS, 2-year cycle), winter wheat–summer maize (WS, 1-year cycle), and continuous cotton (Cont C). The five cropping systems had a wide range of annual average actual evapotranspiration (ETa): Cont C (533mm/year)<SpCSpWS (556mm/year)<PWS (615mm/year)<RCPWS (650mm/year)<WS rotation (734mm/year). The sequence of the simulated annual average groundwater decline due to the five cropping systems was WS (1.1m/year)>RCPWS (0.7m/year)>PWS (0.6m/year)>SPCSPWS and Cont C (0.4m/year). The annual average economic output water use efficiency (WUEe) increased in the order SpCSpWS (11.6yuan¥m−3)>RCPWS (9.0¥m−3)>PWS (7.3¥m−3)>WS (6.8¥m−3)>Cont C (5.6¥m−3) from 2003 to 2013. Results strongly suggest that diversifying crop rotations could play a critically important role in mitigating the over-exploitation of the groundwater, while ensuring the food security or boosting the income of farmers in the North China Plain.