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Journal of Arid Land  2023, Vol. 15 Issue (11): 1376-1390    DOI: 10.1007/s40333-023-0034-3
Research article     
Subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters improves wolfberry yield and economic benefits on the Tibetan Plateau, China
HAN Mengxue1, ZHANG Lin2,*(), LIU Xiaoqiang3
1College of Water Resources and Architectural Engineering, Northwest A&F University, Yangling 712100, China
2Institute of Soil and Water Conservation, Northwest A&F University, Yangling 712100, China
3Department of Foreign Languages, Northwest A&F University, Yangling 712100, China
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Climate warming has led to the expansion of arable land at high altitudes, but it has also increased the demand for water use efficiency (WUE). To address this issue, the development of water-saving irrigation technology has become crucial in improving water productivity and economic returns. This study aimed to assess the impacts of three irrigation methods on water productivity and economic returns in wolfberry (Lycium barbarum L.) cultivation on the Tibetan Plateau, China during a two-year field trial. Results showed that subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters (SICE) outperformed surface drip irrigation (DI) and subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) in terms of wolfberry yield. Over the two-year period, the average yield with SICE increased by 8.0% and 2.3% compared with DI and SDI, respectively. This improvement can be attributed to the stable soil moisture and higher temperature accumulation achieved with SICE. Furthermore, SICE exhibited higher WUE, with 14.6% and 4.5% increases compared with DI and SDI, respectively. In addition to the agronomic benefits, SICE also proved advantageous in terms of economic returns. Total average annual input costs of SICE were lower than the other two methods starting from the 8th year. Moreover, the benefit-cost ratio of SICE surpassed the other methods in the 4th year and continued to widen the gap with subsequent year. These findings highlight SICE as an economically viable water-saving irrigation strategy for wolfberry cultivation on the Tibetan Plateau. Thus, this research not only provides an effective water-saving irrigation strategy for wolfberry cultivation but also offers insights into addressing irrigation-related energy challenges in other crop production systems.

Key wordsirrigation system      soil water content      soil temperature      water use efficiency      economic benefit     
Received: 20 June 2023      Published: 30 November 2023
Corresponding Authors: * ZHANG Lin (E-mail:
Cite this article:

HAN Mengxue, ZHANG Lin, LIU Xiaoqiang. Subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters improves wolfberry yield and economic benefits on the Tibetan Plateau, China. Journal of Arid Land, 2023, 15(11): 1376-1390.

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Soil depth
Bulk density
Field capacity
0-20 0.24 15.62 84.14 1.60±0.08 39.64±1.71 0.16±0.01
20-40 0.44 13.97 85.59 1.71±0.07 35.57±2.02 0.18±0.01
40-60 0.57 18.41 81.02 1.50±0.05 43.24±1.49 0.18±0.01
60-80 0.94 28.69 70.37 1.55±0.04 41.39±1.62 0.19±0.02
80-100 0.71 21.47 77.82 1.55±0.06 41.65±1.56 0.21±0.01
Table 1 Soil particle composition of the study area
Growth period Date 2018 2019
Accumulated precipitation (mm) Average daily temperature (°C) Accumulated precipitation (mm) Average daily temperature (°C)
Germination stage 6 May-10 Jun 25.6 12.9 25.2 12.0
Vegetative stage 11 Jun-14 Jul 29.2 17.4 37.2 16.0
Full-bloom stage 15 Jul-4 Aug 0.0 19.9 0.0 17.8
Summer harvest stage 5 Aug-1 Sep 21.2 17.4 25.6 18.4
Autumn harvest stage 2 Sep-22 Sep 6.4 13.2 0.0 13.0
Whole growth period 6 May-22 Sep 82.4 16.0 88.0 15.6
Table 2 Growth period division of wolfberry in 2018 and 2019
Fig. 1 Subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters (SICE) irrigation system (a), and layout of subsurface irrigation (b) with ceramic emitters (c).
Fig. 2 Variations of soil water content in depths of 0-60 (a) and 60-100 cm (b) over different growth stages. DI, surface drip irrigation; SDI, subsurface drip irrigation; SICE, subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters. Bars are standard errors.
Fig. 3 Soil temperature variations in 0-60 cm soil depth at different growth stages in 2018. (a), germination stage; (b), vegetative stage; (c), full-bloom stage; (d), summer harvest stage; (c), autumn harvest stage; (f), whole growth period. DI, surface drip irrigation; SDI, subsurface drip irrigation; SICE, subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters; LST, local standard time. Bars are standard errors.
Fig. 4 Average daily evapotranspiration (ET, a and b) and soil evaporation (c and d) for each treatment at different stages in 2018 and 2019. Different lowercase letters within the same stage indicate significant differences among different treatments at P<0.05 level. Harvest (s), summer harvest stage; Harvest (a), autumn harvest stage; DI, surface drip irrigation; SDI, subsurface drip irrigation; SICE, subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters. Bars are standard errors.
Fig. 5 Growth parameters of wolfberry at different stages in 2018 (a-c) and 2019 (d-f). LAI, leaf area index. DI, surface drip irrigation; SDI, subsurface drip irrigation; SICE, subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters. Bars are standard errors.
Year Treatment ET (mm) Yield (kg/(hm2•a)) WUE (kg/(hm2•mm))
2018 DI 256.4a 2931.5c 11.4c
SDI 246.2b 3126.4b 12.7b
SICE 242.6b 3199.6a 13.2a
2019 DI 269.4a 2644.8c 9.8c
SDI 259.9b 2761.5b 10.6b
SICE 252.7b 2844.4a 11.3a
Table 3 Yield and WUE of wolfberry for each treatment in 2018 and 2019
Parameter Value Parameter Value
Se-DI,SDI (m) 0.3 Cei-DI,SDI (CNY/unit) 0.05
Se-SICE (m) 0.8 Cei- SICE (CNY/unit) 0.50
Sr (m) 1.2 Cs (CNY/kg) 30
Pw (CNY/m3) 0.15 Cenergy (CNY/(kW•h)) 0.58
Pm (kW) 75 Cd (CNY/hm2) 1500
Ot (h) 12 r 0.06
I (m3/hm2) 1820 i 0.06
Table 4 Input data for economic calculation
Item ρm (kg/m3) C (CNY/kg) Ha (m) σ (kPa)
Lateral 900 18 40 2000
Manifold 1200 30 50 2500
Table 5 Pipeline characteristics for determining capital cost
Parameter DI SDI SICE
Cp (CNY) 12,928.6 12,928.6 11,682.5
Ce (CNY) 1388.9 1388.9 5208.5
Cpu (CNY) 1431.8 1431.8 168.9
Cd (CNY) 0.0 1500.0 1500.0
Ci (CNY) 15,749.3 17,249.3 18,559.9
Coperaing (CNY) 522.0 522.0 26.1
Cwater (CNY) 273.0 273.0 237.0
Cs×Y (CNY) 83,643.8 88,318.5 90,375.0
Irrigation water productivity 46.0 48.5 49.7
Table 6 Cost, income, and economic efficiency
Fig. 6 Estimated cost (Ct) and economic effiency over 10 a. DI, surface drip irrigation; SDI, subsurface drip irrigation; SICE, subsurface irrigation with ceramic emitters.
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