Automatic mobile shelters were used to keep rain off a barley crop in a drought experiment. The treatments ranged from no water during the growing season to regular weekly irrigation. This paper reports the effect of drought on the harvest yield and its components, on water use and nutrient uptake.
Drought caused large decreases in yield, and affected each component of the grain yield. The magnitude of each component varied by up to 25% between treatments, and much of the variation could be accounted for by linear regression against the mean soil water deficit in one of three periods. For the number of grains per ear, the relevant period included tillering and ear formation; for the number of ears per unit ground area, the period included stem extension and tiller death; for grain mass, the period included grain filling.
The harvest yields were linearly related to water use, with no indication of a critical period of drought sensitivity. The relation of grain yield to the maximum potential soil water deficit did show that a prolonged early drought had an exceptionally large effect on both yield and water use.
Two unsheltered irrigation experiments, also on barley, were made in the same year on a nearby site. The effects of drought on yield in these experiments were in good agreement with the effects observed on the mobile shelter site.
When fully irrigated, the small plots under the mobile shelters used water 11% faster than larger areas of crop, because of advection. The maximum depth from which water was extracted was unaffected by the drought treatment. When 50% of the available soil water had been used the uptake rate decreased, but the maximum depth of uptake continued to increase.
Measurements of crop nutrients at harvest showed that nitrogen uptake was large, because of site history, and that phosphate uptake was decreased by drought to such an extent that phosphate shortage may have limited yield.