Planting Cotton in a Crop Residue in a Semiarid Climate: Water Balance and Lint Yield


Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is planted on more land area than any other crop on the Texas High Plains. Much of this area is considered highly erodible and requires a conservation compliance program to participate in government farm programs. Because this region is semiarid and because irrigation water is increasingly limited, water conservation and efficient use of water are necessary to maximize cotton lint yields. One popular conservation compliance practice used is to plant cotton into a chemically terminated small grain crop, i.e., residue that provides wind protection to the cotton seedlings. Our hypothesis was that in a semiarid region the use of a small grain cover crop under irrigated conditions would use more water than it conserves compared to conventional tilled cotton, thus reducing cotton lint yields. To test the hypothesis separate field studies over two growing seasons and on two soil textures, a loamy fine sand and a clay loam, were conducted. The main treatments were tillage systems (conventional and conservation using terminated wheat residue). The two split plot treatments were water supply based on replacement of calculated grass reference evapotranspiration (ETo). Tillage did not affect the amount of water used by the cotton crop at either location (< 7% difference, P > 0.05) except for an 80% ETo irrigation treatment at a single location where the bare soil treatment used 10% more water than the residue treatments for both years. The residue treatment decreased (P < 0.05) cotton lint yields at both locations by 12% except for the 50% ETo single irrigation treatment in which the residue treatment yielded 14% more lint than the bare soil treatment. The use of terminated wheat residue had no impact on soil water storage during any part of the year. During a 5-month period associated with wheat growth, the wheat evapotranspiration was 20 to 40 mm more water (P < 0.05) than that lost through soil water evaporation from the conventional treatments. The use of terminated wheat residue did not benefit the water balance of the cotton crop, and was associated with decreased cotton lint yields. The results were consistent with our working hypothesis, and disproved the idea that planting cotton into wheat stubble cover increases water use efficiency.

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Lascano, R. , Krieg, D. , Baker, J. , Goebel, T. and Gitz III, D. (2015) Planting Cotton in a Crop Residue in a Semiarid Climate: Water Balance and Lint Yield. Open Journal of Soil Science, 5, 236-249. doi: 10.4236/ojss.2015.510023.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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