In arid regions, higher irrigation quota for conventional farming causes substantial conflict between water supply and demand for crop production. Innovations in cropping systems are needed to alleviate this issue. A field experiment was conducted in northwestern China to assess whether straw and plastic managements in wheat/maize intercropping could alleviate these issues. Integrating no tillage with two-year plastic and straw mulching (NTMI2) improved grain yields by 13.8–17.1%, compared to conventional tillage without straw residue and annual new plastic mulching (CTI). The NTMI2 treatment reduced soil evaporation by 9.0–17.3% and the proportion of evaporation to evapotranspiration (E/ET) by 8.6–17.5%, compared to CTI. The NTMI2 treatment weakened wheat competition of soil moisture from maize strip during wheat growth period, and enhanced wheat compensation of soil moisture for maize growth after wheat harvest, compared with CTI. Thus, soil water movement potential of NTMI2 was lowest during wheat growth period, but it was highest during maize-independent growth stage after wheat harvest. The NTMI2 treatment increased evapotranspiration before maize silking, decreased from maize silking to early-filling stage, and increased after the early-filling stage of maize, this effectively coordinated water demand contradiction of intercrops at early and late stages. The NTMI2 treatment improved WUE by 12.4–17.2%, compared with CTI. The improved crop yields and WUE was attributed to the coordinated water competition and compensation, and the decreased soil evaporation and E/ET.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We are grateful for support from the Special Fund for Discipline Construction of Gansu Agricultural University (GAU-XKJS-2018-088), the Special Fund for Talents of Gansu Agricultural University (2017RCZX-02), and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (#31771738, 31360323).