Plant and Soil

, Volume 340, Issue 1–2, pp 467–479 | Cite as

Conservation agriculture for wheat-based cropping systems under gravity irrigation: increasing resilience through improved soil quality

  • Nele Verhulst
  • Adrian Carrillo-García
  • Carina Moeller
  • Richard Trethowan
  • Ken D. Sayre
  • Bram Govaerts
Regular Article


A field experiment was conducted under furrow irrigation on a Vertisol in arid northwestern Mexico, to evaluate sustainable production alternatives for irrigated wheat systems. Treatments included: tillage (conventionally tilled raised beds where new beds are formed after disc ploughing before planting [CTB] and permanent raised beds [PB]) and irrigation regimes (full and reduced). Physical and chemical soil quality was compared among treatments. PB improved soil structure and direct infiltration, increased topsoil K concentrations (0–5 cm; 1.6 cmol kg−1 in PB vs. 1.0–1.1 cmol kg−1 in CTB) and reduced Na concentrations (0–5 cm; 1.3–1.4 cmol kg−1 in PB vs. 1.9–2.2 cmol kg−1 in CTB) compared to CTB. Crop growth dynamics were studied throughout the season with an optical handheld NDVI sensor. Crop growth was initially slower in PB compared to CTB, but this was compensated by increased crop growth in the later stages of the crop cycle which influenced final yield, especially under reduced irrigation. These results were reflected in the final grain yield: in the third year after conversion to PB, no difference in grain yield was found between tillage systems under full irrigation. However, under reduced irrigation the improved soil quality with PB resulted in a 19% and 26% increment in bread and durum wheat grain yields, respectively. As projected climatic scenarios forecast higher evapotranspiration, less reliable rainfall and increased drought, our results indicate that PB could contribute to maintaining and increasing wheat yields in a sustainable way.


Conservation agriculture Soil quality Normalized difference vegetation index Irrigation Arid environment 



N.V. received a PhD fellowship of the Research Foundation - Flanders. We thank M. Ruiz Cano, J. Gutierrez Angulo, J. Sanchez Lopez, A. Zermeño, C. Rascon, B. Martínez Ortiz for technical assistance. The research was funded by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT, Int.) and partly by the 2009–2010 USAID Linkage Funds.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nele Verhulst
    • 2
    • 3
  • Adrian Carrillo-García
    • 1
  • Carina Moeller
    • 1
  • Richard Trethowan
    • 1
  • Ken D. Sayre
    • 2
  • Bram Govaerts
    • 2
  1. 1.Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural ResourcesThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT)MexicoMexico
  3. 3.Department of Earth and Environmental SciencesKatholieke Universiteit LeuvenLeuvenBelgium

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