In each of the years from September 1977 to July 1982 winter wheat was grown on one or more of three clay soil sites (clay content 35–55%) in Oxfordshire where the climate is close to the average for the area of England growing winter cereals.
The effects on crop water use of different soil management practices, including ploughing, direct drilling and subsoil drainage, are compared. Cultivation treatment had little effect on the maximum depth of water extraction, which on average in these clay soils was 1·54 m below the soil surface. Maximum soil water deficit was also little affected by cultivation; the maximum recorded value was 186±7·6 mm. Subsoil drainage increased the maximum depth of water extraction by approximately 15 cm and the maximum soil water deficit by about 17 mm.
Generally soil management had little effect on either total water use by the crop which was found to be close to the potential evaporation estimated by the method of Penman, or water use efficiency which for these crops was about 52 kg/ha par mm water used.
Results are discussed in relation to limitations to potential yield.