Functional Plant Biology Functional Plant Biology Society
Plant function and evolutionary biology
REVIEW

Balancing crop yield and water productivity tradeoffs in herbaceous and woody crops

Elías Fereres A B C , Francisco Orgaz A , Victoria Gonzalez-Dugo A , Luca Testi A and Francisco J. Villalobos A B

A Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Scientific Research Council of Spain (CSIC), Alameda del Obispo, 14004 Cordoba, Spain.

B Department of Agronomy, University of Cordoba, Campus Universitario Rabanales, Edificio Celestino Mutis, 14014 Cordoba, Spain.

C Corresponding author. Email: ag1fecae@uco.es

This paper originates from a presentation at the Interdrought IV Conference, Perth, Australia, 2–6 September 2013.

Functional Plant Biology 41(11) 1009-1018 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/FP14042
Submitted: 2 February 2014  Accepted: 26 May 2014   Published: 18 July 2014

Abstract

The links between water and crop yield are well known. In agricultural systems, maximum yield and maximum water productivity (WP; yield divided by water use) are not always compatible goals. In water-limited situations, optimal solutions must be reached by finding a compromise between the levels of crop production and WP. The tradeoffs between production and WP are reviewed here and the dominant effects of the environment on WP are examined. Genetic improvement for WP generally has yield tradeoffs, whereas management measures devised to improve WP also enhance yield. It is shown that partial closure of the stomata in response to environmental stimuli has a variable impact on canopy transpiration, depending on the degree of coupling between the canopy and the atmosphere. In contrast to the behaviour of the major herbaceous crops, WP increases in some woody crops in response to water stress, suggesting that biomass and transpiration are not linearly related, and that deficit irrigation should be successful in these species. Avoiding high evaporative demand periods (e.g. through tolerance to low temperatures) is an important option that aims to increase production and WP. A case study is presented for improving sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.) yield and WP in temperate environments.

Additional keywords: coupling, management, stomata, transpiration, water stress, water use efficiency.


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