No tillage with previous plastic covering increases water harvesting and decreases soil CO2 emissions of wheat in dry regions

Yao Guo, Wen Yin, Qiang Chai, Zhilong Fan, Falong Hu, Hong Fan, Cai Zhao, Aizhong Yu, Jeffrey A. Coulter

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In arid and highly populated areas, water shortage and soil CO2 emission (CE) are seriously threatening the sustainability of agriculture. Optimization of tillage, irrigation, and nitrogen (N) application within cropping systems are keys to reducing CE. We hypothesized that an integrated system could increase crop yields and improve water harvesting, while reducing CE and enhancing C sequestration potential from crop production. In 2016–2018, this hypothesis was tested under spring wheat of maize-wheat rotation in field experiments in the arid inland irrigation of China. This research evaluated how no tillage, reduced the supply levels of irrigation and N affect crop yield, water harvesting, and CE, C sequestration potential of following spring wheat after plastic-mulched maize. Across the three study years, tillage practice, irrigation level, and N level individually had a significant effect on grain yield, water harvesting, and CE characteristics of wheat in each year, but the interaction among the three factors was hardly significant. No tillage with previous residual plastic covering (NTP), reduced irrigation, and reduced N application increased grain yield, improved water harvesting of wheat, but decreased CE. On average, NTP practice combined with a reduction of 20 % in irrigation and N supply levels (i.e., the optimized system, NTPI2N2), increased grain yield, soil water storage between pre-sowing and post-harvesting (wheat harvesting), and the ratio of transpiration to evaporation (T/E) by 13.6, 150.0, and 79.7 % (P < 0.05), respectively, compared to conventional tillage with local conventional high supply level in irrigation and N (i.e., the control, CTI2N3). The optimized system reduced CE and carbon emission intensity (CEI) by 31.3 % and 39.0 % (P < 0.05) compared to the control treatment, respectively. However, the optimized system had 7.5, 12.6, 7.5, and 57.4 % (P < 0.05) greater net primary production (NPP), net ecosystem production (NEP), carbon in harvested wheat (harvest-C), and the ratio of NPP/CE than the control. It indicates that the optimized system had greater potential for enhancing soil C sequestration. Therefore, no tillage with previous residual plastic covering from the previous maize combined with a 20 % reduction in both irrigation and N levels is a promising strategy to improve water harvesting, reduce CE, and enhance soil C sequestration potential of wheat production in dry regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104883
JournalSoil and Tillage Research
StatePublished - Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are thanks for the research programs sponsored by the Science and Technology Innovation Funds of Gansu Agricultural University ( GSCS-2019-Z1 ), the Modern Agro-Industry Technology Research System of China ( CARS-22-G-12 ), the Science and Technology Project of Gansu Province ( 20JR5RA037 , 20JR5RA025 ), Young Science and Technology Talents Supporting Project of Gansu Science and Technology Association ( 2020-12 ), and the Fuxi Young Talents Fund of Gansu Agricultural University ( Gaufx-03Y10 ).


  • C sequestration
  • No tillage with plastic covering
  • Soil CO emission
  • Water harvesting
  • Yield performance

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