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Optimizing irrigation and nitrogen for wheat through empirical modeling under semi-arid environment


Nitrogen fertilizer availability to plants is strongly linked with water availability. Excessive or insufficient use of nitrogen can cause reduction in grain yield of wheat and environmental issues. The per capita per annum water availability in Pakistan has reduced to less than 1000 m3 and is expected to reach 800 m3 during 2025. Irrigating crops with 3 or more than 3 in. of depth without measuring volume of water is not a feasible option anymore. Water productivity and economic return of grain yield can be improved by efficient management of water and nitrogen fertilizer. A study was conducted at post-graduate agricultural research station, University of Agriculture Faisalabad, during 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 to optimize volume of water per irrigation and nitrogen application. Split plot design with three replications was used to conduct experiment; four irrigation levels (I300 = 300 mm, I240 = 240 mm, I180 = 180 mm, I120 = 120 mm for whole growing season at critical growth stages) and four nitrogen levels (N60 = 60 kg ha−1, N120 = 120 kg ha−1, N180 = 180 kg ha−1, and N240 = 240 kg ha−1) were randomized as main and sub-plot factors, respectively. The recorded data on grain yield was used to develop empirical regression models. The results based on quadratic equations and economic analysis showed 164, 162, 158, and 107 kg ha−1 nitrogen as economic optimum with I300, I240, I180, and I120 mm water, respectively, during 2012–2013. During 2013–2014, quadratic equations and economic analysis showed 165, 162, 161, and 117 kg ha−1 nitrogen as economic optimum with I300, I240, I180, and I120 mm water, respectively. The optimum irrigation level was obtained by fitting economic optimum nitrogen as function of total water. Equations predicted 253 mm as optimum irrigation water for whole growing season during 2012–2013 and 256 mm water as optimum for 2013–2014. The results also revealed that reducing irrigation from I300 to I240 mm during 2012–2013 and 2013–2014 did not reduce crop yield significantly (P < 0.01). The excessive nitrogen application ranged from 31.2 to 55.4% at N180 and N240 kg ha−1 for different levels of irrigation. It is concluded from study that irrigation and nitrogen relationship can be used for efficient management of irrigation and nitrogen and to reduce nitrogen losses. The empirical equations developed in this study can help farmers of semi-arid environment to calculate optimum level of irrigation and nitrogen for maximum economic return from wheat.

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Correspondence to Umer Saeed.

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Saeed, U., Wajid, S.A., Khaliq, T. et al. Optimizing irrigation and nitrogen for wheat through empirical modeling under semi-arid environment. Environ Sci Pollut Res 24, 11663–11676 (2017).

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  • Irrigation volume
  • Water scarcity
  • Nitrogen losses
  • Economic wheat yield
  • Water productivity