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AQUASTAT
AQUASTAT
UN-Water
Crop Water Information: Maize

This section presents information on water relations and water management of maize and provides links to other sources of information.

Crop Description and Climate

Maize (Zea Mays) originates in the Andean region of Central America. It is one of the most important cereals both for human and animal consumption and is grown for grain and forage. Present world production is about 594 million tons grain from about 139 million ha (FAOSTAT, 2000).

The crop is grown in climates ranging from temperate to tropic during the period when mean daily temperatures are above 15°C and frost-free. Adaptability of varieties in different climates varies widely. Successful cultivation markedly depends on the right choice of varieties so that the length of growing period of the crop matches the length of the growing season and the purpose for which the crop is to be grown. Variety selection trials to identify the best suitable varieties for given areas are frequently necessary.

When mean daily temperatures during the growing season are greater than 20°C, early grain varieties take 80 to 110 days and medium varieties 110 to 140 days to mature. When grown as a vegetable, these varieties are 15 to 20 days shorter. When mean daily temperatures are below 20°C, there is an extension in days to maturity of 10 to 20 days for each 0.5°C decrease depending on variety, and at 1.5°C the maize grain crop takes 200 to 300 days to mature. With mean daily temperature of 10 to 15°C maize is mostly grown as a forage crop because of the problem of seed set and grain maturity under cool conditions. For germination the lowest mean daily temperature is about 10°C, with 18 to 20°C being optimum. The crop is very sensitive to frost, particularly in the seedling stage but it tolerates hot and dry atmospheric conditions so long as sufficient water is available to the plant and temperatures are below 45°C. Temperature requirements, expressed as sum of mean daily temperatures, for medium varieties are 2500 to 3000 degree days, while early varieties require about 1800 and late varieties 3700 or more degree days.

In respect of daylength, maize is considered to be either a day-neutral or a short-day plant. The growth of maize is very responsive to radiation. However, five or six leaves near and above the cob are the source of assimilation for grain filling and light must penetrate to these leaves. For optimum light interception, for grain production, the density index (number of plants per ha/row spacing) varies but on average it is about 150 for the large late varieties and about 500 for the small early varieties. Sowing methods and spacing vary, and fertility and water are decisive factors in choosing the optimum density in relation to light interception and highest yields. Plant population varies from 20000 to 30000 plants per ha for the large late varieties to 50000 to 80000 for small early varieties. Spacing between rows varies between 0.6 and 1 m. Sowing depth is 5 to 7 cm with one or more seeds per sowing point. When grown for forage, plant population is 50 percent higher.

The plant does well on most soils but less so on very heavy dense clay and very sandy soils. The soil should preferably be well-aerated and well-drained as the crop is susceptible to waterlogging. The fertility demands for grain maize are relatively high and amount, for high-producing varieties, up to about 200 kg/ha N, 50 to 80 kg/ha P and 60 to 100 kg/ha K. In general the crop can be grown continuously as long as soil fertility is maintained.

Maize is moderately sensitive to salinity. Yield decrease under increasing soil salinity is: 0% at ECe 1.7 mmhos/cm, 10% at 2.5, 25% at 3.8, 50% at 5.9 and 100% at ECe 10 mmhos/cm.
The graph below depicts the crop stages of maize, and the table summarises the main crop coefficients used for water management.

Maize (grain)

Stages of Development

Plant date

Region

Crop characteristic

Initial

Crop Development

Mid-season

Late

Total

 

Stage length, days

30

25

20

20

30

30

30

50

40

35

35

40

40

40

60

45

40

40

50

50

50

40

30

30

30

30

30

50

180

140

125

125

150

150

170

April

Dec/Jan

June

Oct./Dec

April

April

April

East Africa (alt.)

Arid Climate (alt.)

Nigeria (humid)

India (dry, cool)

Spain (spr, sum)

Calif.

Idaho, USA

Depletion Coefficient, p

0.50

0.50

0.50

0.80

-

 

Root Depth, m

0.30

>>

>>

1.00

-

 

Crop Coefficient, Kc

0.30

>>

1.2

0.5

-

 

Yield Response Factor, Ky

0.40

0.40

1.30

0.50

1.25

 

Stages of Development

Crop characteristic

Initial

Crop Development

Mid-season

Late

Total

Stage length, days

25
40
40
35
135

Depletion Coefficient, p

0.50

0.50

0.50

0.80

-

Root Depth, m

0.30

>>

>>

1.00

-

Crop Coefficient, Kc

0.30

>>

1.2

0.5

-

Yield Response Factor, Ky

0.40

1.0.40

1.30

0.50

1.25

Water Requirements

Maize is an efficient user of water in terms of total dry matter production and among cereals it is potentially the highest yielding grain crop. For maximum production a medium maturity grain crop requires between 500 and 800 mm of water depending on climate. To this, water losses during conveyance and application must be added. The crop factor (kc) relating water requirements (ETm) to reference evapotranspiration (ETo) for different crop growth stages of grain maize is for the initial stage 0.3-0.5 (15 to 30 days), the development stage 0.7-0.85 (30 to 45 days) the mid-season stage 1.05-1.2 (30 to 45 days), during the late season stage 0.8-0.9 (10 to 30 days), and at harvest 0.55-0.6.

Water Supply And Crop Yield

This schematic graph shows the growth periods of maize.

The relationships between relative yield decrease (1 - Ya/Ym) and relative evapotranspiration deficit for the total growing period are shown in the figure below.

This figure shows the relationships between relative yield decrease (1 - Ya/Ym) and relative evapotranspiration deficit for the individual growth periods.

Frequency and depth of irrigation and rain has a pronounced effect on grain yield. Maize appears relatively tolerant to water deficits during the vegetative (1) and ripening (4) periods. Greatest decrease in grain yields is caused by water deficits during the flowering period (2) including tasselling and silking and pollination, due mainly to a reduction in grain number per cob. This effect is less pronounced when in the preceding vegetative period (1) the plant has suffered water deficits. Severe water deficits during the flowering period (2), particularly at the time of silking and pollination, may result in little or no grain yield due to silk drying. Water deficits during the yield formation period (3) may lead to reduced yield due to a reduction in grain size. Water deficit during the ripening period (4) has little effect on grain yield.

The effect of limited water on maize grain yield is considerable and careful control of frequency and depth of irrigation is required to optimize yields under conditions of water shortage. Where water supply is limited it may therefore be advantageous to meet, as far as possible, full water requirements (ETm) so as to achieve near maximum yield from a limited acreage rather than to spread the limited water over a larger acreage.

Maize flourishes on well-drained soils and waterlogging should be avoided, particularly during the flowering (2) and yield formation (3) periods. Waterlogging during flowering (2) can reduce grain yields by 50 percent or more.

Water Uptake

When evaporative conditions correspond to ETm of 5 to 6 mm/day, soil water depletion up to about 55 percent of available soil water (Sa) has a small effect on yield (p = 0.55). To enhance rapid and deep root growth a somewhat greater depletion during early growth periods can be advantageous. Depletion of 80 percent or more may be allowed during the ripening period.

Although in deep soils the roots may reach a depth of 2 m, the highly branched system is located in the upper 0.8 to 1 m and about 80 percent of the soil water uptake occurs from this depth. Normally 100 percent of the water is taken up from the first 1 to 1.7 m soil depth (D = 1 to 1.7 m). Depth and rate of root growth is, however, greatly affected by rainfall pattern and irrigation practices adopted. In addition to soil water and nutrient status, root development is strongly influenced by textural and structural stratification, salts and water table.

Irrigation Scheduling

To obtain a good stand and rapid root development, the root zone should, where feasible, be wetted at or soon after sowing. Taking into account the level of ETm, to meet full water requirements, the water depletion level is about 40 percent in the establishment period (0), between 55 and 65 percent during periods 1, 2 and 3, and up to 80 percent during the ripening period (4).

Where rainfall is low and irrigation water supply is restricted, irrigation scheduling should be based on avoiding water deficits during the flowering period (2) followed by yield formation period (3). When a severe water deficit during the flowering period (2) is unavoidable, water may be saved by reducing supply during the vegetative period (1) as well as during the yield formation period (3) without incurring additional yield losses.

Under conditions of marginal rainfall and limited irrigation water supply, the number of possible irrigation applications may vary between 2 and 5. A suggested timing of these irrigation applications is given below. To obtain a good stand and proper root development, the potential root zone should be wet either from rainfall or irrigation prior or soon after sowing.

Yield

Under irrigation a good commercial grain yield is 6 to 9 ton/ha (10 to 13 percent moisture). The water utilization efficiency for harvested yield (Ey) for grain varies then between 0.8 and 1.6 kg/m3.

 
 
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