Improving estimates of water-limited yield of wheat by accounting for soil type and within-season rainfall

Y.M. Oliver, Michael Robertson, P.J. Stone, A. Whitbread

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    40 Citations (Scopus)


    Rainfall is the main driver of potential yield in the dryland cropping environment of Australia. Rainfall-based empirically derived models such as that proposed by French and Schultz (1984) (F&S) can be used to determine an upper limit of water-limited potential yield, but F&S often overestimates actual yield as it does not account for rainfall distribution, runoff, drainage, or stored soil water. More complex models are available to predict potential yield more accurately; however, farmers and advisors favour easy-to-use-methods to estimate potential yield.To derive a simple yet accurate method for estimating potential yield, several adjustments to F&S were evaluated: (1) accounting for stored soil water at sowing, (2) varying the value of the intercept between yield and growing-season rainfall (GSR), (3) varying the water-use efficiency of the crops (WUE) according to soil type, and (4) adjustments to GSR depending on soil plant-available water capacity (PAWC). The water-limited potential yields predicted from these methods were compared with simulations from the daily time-step simulation model APSIM and observed wheat yields from 146 dryland wheat crops, managed to water-limited potential yield, covering the 1996–2006 seasons in the Mediterranean-type growing environments of Australia.The original F&S method overestimated actual yields, particularly at high rainfall (GSR > 220 mm) when PAWC was low, and underestimated yields at low rainfall (GSR <220 mm). Significant improvements to the F&S were achieved with a few simple adjustments. With the addition of a variable intercept (dependent upon GSR), accounting for stored soil water at the start of the season and placing a cap on GSR that is a function of the soil PAWC, the predictive performance (RMSE 624 kg/ha) was similar to that gained with the daily time-step model APSIM (RMSE 419 kg/ha). The improved method gave more realistic estimates of water-limited potential yield, particularly at low and high rainfall and on soils of low PAWC.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1137-1146
    JournalCrop & Pasture Science
    Issue number12
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


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