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Soil Mulching Significantly Enhances Yields And Water And Nitrogen Use Efficiencies Of Maize And Wheat: A Meta-analysis

W. Qin, Chunsheng Hu, O. Oenema
Published 2015 · Environmental Science, Medicine

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Global crop yields are limited by water and nutrient availability. Soil mulching (with plastic or straw) reduces evaporation, modifies soil temperature and thereby affects crop yields. Reported effects of mulching are sometimes contradictory, likely due to differences in climatic conditions, soil characteristics, crop species, and also water and nitrogen (N) input levels. Here we report on a meta-analysis of the effects of mulching on wheat and maize, using 1310 yield observations from 74 studies conducted in 19 countries. Our results indicate that mulching significantly increased yields, WUE (yield per unit water) and NUE (yield per unit N) by up to 60%, compared with no-mulching. Effects were larger for maize than wheat, and larger for plastic mulching than straw mulching. Interestingly, plastic mulching performed better at relatively low temperature while straw mulching showed the opposite trend. Effects of mulching also tended to decrease with increasing water input. Mulching effects were not related to soil organic matter content. In conclusion, soil mulching can significantly increase maize and wheat yields, WUE and NUE, and thereby may contribute to closing the yield gap between attainable and actual yields, especially in dryland and low nutrient input agriculture. The management of soil mulching requires site-specific knowledge.
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