Potential deep drainage under wheat crops in a Mediterranean climate. I. Temporal and spatial variability

S. Asseng, I. R.P. Fillery, F. X. Dunin, B. A. Keating, H. Meinke

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110 Scopus citations

Abstract

High rates of deep drainage (water loss below the root-zone) in Western Australia are contributing to groundwater recharge and secondary salinity. However, quantifying potential drainage through measurements is hampered by the high degree of complexity of these systems as a result of diverse soil types, a range of crops, different rainfall regions, and in particular the inherent season-to-season variability. Simulation models can provide the appropriate means to extrapolate across time and space. The Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) was used to analyse deep drainage under wheat crops in the Mediterranean climate of the central Western Australian wheatbelt. In addition to rigorous model testing elsewhere, comparisons between simulated and observed soil water loss, evapotranspiration, and deep drainage for different soil types and seasons confirmed the reasonable performance of the APSIM model. The APSIM model was run with historical weather records (70-90 years) across 2 transects from the coast (high rainfall zone) to the eastern edge of the wheatbelt (low rainfall zone). Soils were classified as 5 major types: deep sand, deep loamy sand, acid loamy sand, shallow duplex (waterlogging), and clay soil (non-waterlogging). Simulations were carried out on these soil types with historical weather records, assuming current crop management and cultivars. Soil water profiles were reset each year to the lower limit of plant-available water, assuming maximum water use in the previous crop. Results stressed the high degree of seasonal variability of deep drainage ranging from 0 to 386 mm at Moora in the high rainfall region (461 mm/year average rainfall), from 0 to 296 mm at Wongan Hills in the medium rainfall region (386 mm/year average rainfall), and from 0 to 234 mm at Merredin in the low rainfall region (310 mm/year average rainfall). The largest amounts of drainage occurred in soils with lowest extractable water-holding capacities. Estimates of annual drainage varied with soil type and location. For example, average (±s.d.) annual drainage at Moora, Wongan Hills, and Merredin was 134 (±73), 90 (±61), and 36 (±43) mm on a sand, and 57 (±64), 26 (±43), and 4 (±18) mm on a clay soil, respectively. These values are an order of magnitude higher than drainage reported elsewhere under native vegetation. When not resetting the soil each year, carry-over of water left behind in the soil reduced the water storage capacity in the subsequent year, increasing long-term average deep drainage, depending on soil type and rainfall region. The analyses revealed the extent of the excess water problem that currently threatens the sustainability of the wheat-based farming systems in Western Australia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)45-56
Number of pages12
JournalAustralian Journal of Agricultural Research
Volume52
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • APSIM
  • Crop water use
  • Evapotranspiration
  • Secondary salinity
  • Simulation

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