Date Published: April 01, 2018
Author(s): Dedi Ma, Lei Chen, Hongchao Qu, Yilin Wang, Tom Misselbrook, Rui Jiang.
•Our study can provide a comprehensive assessment on the impacts of the plastic film mulching.•We assessed the effects of plastic film mulching on soil physical and biochemical properties.•The spring maize yield was significantly increased with plastic film mulching in Northwest China.
As the human population increases, the global demand for food is expected to double by 2050 (Tilman et al., 2012). With decreasing availability of well-watered agricultural lands, existing cropland with limited water supply such as those in rain-fed arid and semiarid areas will need to be used more effectively to attain the required food production levels, (Fischer and Turner, 1978; Haddad et al., 2010). In China, approximately one third of the dryland farming is in the arable land areas, of which about 40% are situated on the Chinese Loess Plateau (Li et al, 2004). Thus the Chinese Loess Plateau has the potential to be a major food production area of China in the 21st century if appropriate agricultural technologies can be applied to solve the water stress issue.
Although PFM has been widely applied in arid and semiarid regions such as in Northwestern China to increase the crop production, the impacts of the PFM on crop yields and the underlying mechanisms are still under debate. Here we conducted a comprehensive meta-analysis on the effects of the PFM on three major crops: maize, wheat and potato in Northwest China. To clarify the mechanisms underlying the changes in crop yields, we further assessed how PFM influenced soil biochemical properties, including soil water, nitrate, and SOC (LFOC), and how PFM affected yields under different levels of precipitation and N application rate. Our study suggests that the PFM can significantly increase crop yields, especially spring maize, in Northwestern China. Although the environmental costs of PFM are still unclear due to a lack of data, some options such as using thick film (0.01 mm) or biodegradable film to avoid non-point source pollution may enable high NEB. Our study provides evidence that PFM can be a key practice to increase crop productivity and achieve better economic and environmental benefits in the rain-fed agriculture of Northwestern China. However, the future studies are needed to fully quantify environmental costs, economic befits and agricultural sustainability, particularly relating to N and C transformation processes.