In the Loess Plateau region of northwestern China, potato is the main food crop. The Loess Plateau, also known as the Huangtu Plateau, is a 640,000 km² plateau located around the Wei River valley and covers almost all of the provinces of Shaanxi and Shanxi and extends into parts of Gansu, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia.
Even though it is such an important crop there, potato yields are lower than they could be. The area has a dry climate with uneven precipitation. Droughts are common, especially in the spring when crops are just starting to emerge. If soil moisture was more reliable, the potato crops would do better.
Rong Li and colleagues at Ningxia University in Yinchuan, China set out to discover if different tilling and mulching practices could improve soil moisture—and crop yields—in the Loess Plateau. The researchers studied three tillage options (conventional, no-till, and subsoiling) combined with three mulching options (no mulch, straw mulch, and plastic film).
“We recommend conservation tillage combined with straw mulch as a more favorable farming practice for drought resistance in potato seedlings,” Li said. “This combination has great potential for greater crop production in our region and similar semi-arid dryland farming regions of the world.”