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Plastic mulch decreases available energy and evapotranspiration and improves yield and water use efficiency in an irrigated maize cropland

Fan, Yaqiong, Ding, Risheng, Kang, Shaozhong, Hao, Xinmei, Du, Taisheng, Tong, Ling, Li, Sien
Agricultural water management 2017 v.179 pp. 122-131
arid zones, corn, crop coefficient, cropland, diurnal variation, energy balance, evapotranspiration, heat transfer, irrigation, mulching, plant growth, plastic film, plastic film mulches, regression analysis, soil, water use efficiency, China
Plastic film mulch has been widely adopted in recent decades in the arid region of northwest China, and the practice changes the energy budget of the soil surface, crop water use and plant growth and yield. However, there are few studies that quantify differences in the energy balance, water use, plant growth and water use efficiency (WUE) with and without plastic film mulch. Energy components, crop evapotranspiration, plant growth and yield were measured in a mulched (M) and unmulched (NM) maize field in 2014 and 2015. The results showed that diurnal net radiation (Rn) was lower while soil heat flux (G) was higher for the M treatment than in the NM on typical sunny days. Diurnal pattern of G was the same as Rn but the maximum lagged by 0.5–2h. For the M treatment, the duration of Rn>0 was less than that of the NM for 96 days, i.e., 61% of the whole growth period. Plastic film mulch decreased daily Rn, as the linear regression of Rn with the Rn of unmulched treatment had a slope of 0.90. Plastic film mulch reduced ET as the available energy decreased. The total ET was 524 and 557mm with daily mean values of 3.3 and 3.5mmd−1 in 2014, and 550 and 575mm with daily mean values of 3.5 and 3.7mmd−1 in 2015 for M and NM, respectively. A better curvilinear relationship was found between ET for M and NM for two years, with R2 of 0.95 and 0.90, respectively. The plastic film mulch decreased crop coefficient but accelerated plant growth and advanced maize maturity, and thus increased yield and WUE.