Rice growth and yield respond to changes in water depth and salinity stress

Depth of standing water in rice paddy fields is an important agronomic parameter in the management of irrigation-related salinity problems. It was hypothesized that reductions in the yield of rice under salinity stress can be ameliorated by adjusting the water depth. This study was designed to determine the interactive effects of salinity and water depth on seedling establishment and grain yield in rice. Plants were grown in a greenhouse and irrigated with nutrient solutions amended with NaCl and CaCl2 (5:1 molar concentrations). Treatments were three salt levels with electrical conductivities at 0.9, 3.3 and 6.0 dS m-1 and six water depths at 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 20 cm. The effects of both salinity and water depth were significant on plant growth and yield. However, there was no interaction between the effects of salinity and water depth. Reductions in seedling establishment and grain yield with increases of salinity and water depth resulted from a simple combinati- on of the two different stresses on plants. Highly significant negative correlations were identified between water depth and seedling establishment and also between water depth and grain yield when data were combined across salt levels. Generally, plants performed better with respect to seedling establishment and grain yield in shallow water (i.e. <10 cm) than in deep water (i.e. >10 cm). Under salt stress, the effect of water depth was significant for panicle number, but not significant for panicle weight. The loss of grain yield under salt stress with the increases of water depth was mainly due to reduction in fertile tiller number. We suggest that water depth be lowered during the initiation and growth of productive tillers. However, the practice by lowering water depth must be incorporated with appropriate field management such as the increase of irrigation frequency, precision leveling, and effective weed control methods.

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