Ridge-Furrow Mulching Systems-An Innovative Technique for Boosting Crop Productivity in Semiarid Rain-Fed Environments
Gan, Y.T., Siddique, K.H.M., Turner, N.C., Li, X.-G., Niu, J., Yang, C., and Liu, L. (2013). "Chapter Seven - Ridge-Furrow Mulching Systems - An Innovative Technique for Boosting Crop Productivity in Semiarid Rain-Fed Environments.", Advances in Agronomy (Book series), 118, pp. 429-476. doi : 10.1016/B978-0-12-405942-9.00007-4
Increasing food demands by a growing human population require substantial increases in crop productivity. In rain-fed arid and semiarid areas where the water supply is limited, an increase in the precipitation use efficiency (PUE) is the key to reach this goal. This chapter examines the scientific basis of a ridge-furrow mulching system (RF system) for increasing PUE, and summarizes the effects of this system on crop performance, microclimates, soil attributes, and environmental sustainability. Studies have shown that using crop straw, plastic film, or gravel-sand materials to mulch the soil surface significantly reduces the evaporation of soil moisture, increases water availability to crop plants, and decreases soil erosion caused by wind and water. Plastic mulching increases topsoil temperature during cool spring, promoting plant growth; during hot summer, straw mulching can moderate soil temperature, preventing the topsoil from reaching temperatures that inhibit plant growth. Ridge furrows with plastic mulching on the ridges and crop straw covering the furrows channel water to the furrows, and enhance soil water infiltration and water availability to the crop. Microclimates under mulched ridges and furrows favor soil microbial activity, increase soil biodiversity, and improve environmental benefits. The effectiveness of ridge-furrow systems is reflected in increased crop yields (20-180%) compared with that of the conventional-flat planting. Although more research is required to document physiochemical strengths, technique details and potential drawbacks, and more importantly to define long-term sustainability, we strongly suggest that RF systems are an innovative approach for increasing crop water availability, improving soil productivity, and enhancing food security for arid and semiarid rain-fed areas. © 2013 Elsevier Inc.