Corn yield response to subsurface drainage water recycling in the midwestern United States

Rebecca S. Willison, Kelly A. Nelson, Lori J. Abendroth, Giorgi Chighladze, Christopher H. Hay, Xinhua Jia, Jeppe Kjaersgaard, Benjamin D. Reinhart, Jeffrey S. Strock, Christopher K. Wikle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Drainage water recycling (DWR) involves capture, storage, and reuse of surface and subsurface drainage water as irrigation to enhance crop production during critical times of the growing season. Our objectives were to synthesize 53 site-years of data from 1996 to 2017 in the midwestern United States to determine the effect of DWR using primarily subirrigation on corn (Zea mays L.) grain yield and yield variability and to identify precipitation factors at key stages of corn development (V1–V8, V9–VT, R1–R2, R3–R4, and R5–R6) that correlated to an increase in yield with DWR. A generalized additive model was used to quantify and characterize the relationship between precipitation and corn grain yield during corn development stages and to determine if that relationship differed between DWR and free drainage (FD). Corn yield response to precipitation was generally similar between DWR and FD, except during the critical period of V9–R2, in which DWR was more resilient to precipitation extremes than FD. Drainage water recycling was generally more responsive than FD in years with low and normal precipitation (<181 mm). When precipitation was low (27–85 mm) from V9 to R2, DWR had higher yields (77% of the site-years evaluated), with an average yield increase of 3.6 Mg ha−1 (1.2–7.5 Mg ha−1). Overall, FD had 28% greater yield variability than DWR. Additional research is needed on DWR impacts on different soils and locations throughout this region to improve the stability of corn yields and to develop automated DWR systems for enhancing efficiency of water management with increasing climate variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1865-1881
Number of pages17
JournalAgronomy Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, USDA, under award number 2015‐68007‐23193, “Managing Water for Increased Resiliency of Drained Agricultural Landscapes” ( ). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the USDA. A special thanks is extended to numerous farm managers, technicians, and graduate and undergraduate students for their assistance with this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Agronomy Journal published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of American Society of Agronomy


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