Water Availability and Use in Rainfed Farming Systems

Their Relationship to System Structure, Operation and Management
  • Garry J. O’Leary
  • Sue Walker
  • N. L. Joshi
  • Jeff W. White


There is great diversity in rainfed farming systems with climate and soil type dictating, to a large degree, their primary structure. Profitable crop production requires efficient collection of water and then its effective extraction by the crop with minimal losses to evaporation, runoff, drainage and weed competition. The supply of water for rainfed crop production is primarily controlled by the seasonal pattern (summer or winter dominance), by intensity of precipitation and its interaction with the absorptive capacity of the soil. The relationship between water use and crop yield is close and positive and forms the basis of crop water production functions. In relation to the structure, operation and management of rainfed farming systems, we focus on optimisation of four primary components: (1) the delivery of water; (2) the capture of rainfall; (3) the portion of water available for crop production; and (4) the efficiency of conversion of water to a usable product, and how these can be used. Optimising the availability of water and its use is complex but subject to straightforward analyses. Management is aimed at maximising water supply and its efficiency of use. The ways that water availability is managed are diverse but strongly interconnected, and reflect differing biophysical and economic conditions. Our examples, from both developed and developing countries show that there is a common strategy despite the diversity.


Transpiration Evaporation Crop yield Agronomic management Weed control Rainwater harvesting Precision agriculture Water productivity 



We thank the various institutions represented by the authors for the time to collate this chapter. Much, but not all, of the work cited has been published. We acknowledge the valuable support of the Australian Grains Research and Development Corporation together with the Department of Primary Industries, Victoria which funded much of the Australian work. In South Africa, much of the research was funded by the South African Water Research Commission, and the input from many PhD students is acknowledged. The helpful cooperation of the Birchip Cropping Group and Mallee Sustainable Farming Incorporated where the soil and yield mapping validation was carried out is gratefully acknowledged. We thank the editors and reviewers of earlier drafts for helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Garry J. O’Leary
    • 1
  • Sue Walker
    • 2
  • N. L. Joshi
    • 3
  • Jeff W. White
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Primary IndustriesHorshamAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Soil, Crop and Climate SciencesUniversity of the Free StateBloemfonteinSouth Africa
  3. 3.Central Arid Zone Research InstituteJodhpurIndia
  4. 4.Arid Land Agricultural Research Center, USDA ARSMaricopaUSA

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