Multiple environmental benefits of alternate wetting and drying irrigation system with limited yield impact on European rice cultivation: the Ebre Delta case

Maite Martínez-Eixarch* (Corresponding Author), Carles Alcaraz, Mercè Guàrdia, Mar Català-Forner, Andrea Bertomeu, Stefano Monaco, Nicole Cochrane, Viktoria Oliver, Yit Arn Teh, Brigitte Courtois, Adam Price

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The AWD is an irrigation technology for rice cultivation, consisting in implementing alternate draining and flooded periods over the growing season, that delivers multiple environmental benefits, such as reduced water consumption, CH4 emissions and arsenic (As) grain content, but can be offset by yield losses. The trade-offs between the agronomic and environmental effects of AWD are crop context-dependent and they also vary among the different versions of AWD studied. Therefore, the implementation of a safe AWD needs to be preceded by studies conducted within a specific rice cropping system. A two-year field experiment was conducted to assess the effect of AWD on grain yield, As and heavy metal content in grains, and greenhouse gas emissions in nine representative European rice cultivars grown in a Mediterranean growing area. The experiment was performed in a split-plot design with four replications. The study revealed a significant cultivar effect on the agronomic response to AWD. Among the studied cultivars, one of them performed as tolerant to AWD while a group formed by four cultivars showed slight non-significant yield decline. AWD significantly reduced CH4 emissions and the global warming potential by 90% being such a large mitigation capacity explained by the negligible N2O emissions found in both water treatments. Finally, the implementation of AWD significantly reduced by ca. 40 % As grain concentration but increased cadmium content, though the levels remained below the recommended thresholds. Further, AWD increased key nutritional elements like cupper, selenium, and zinc. In conclusion, this study confirms that AWD can be safely implemented in Mediterranean rice cultivation conditions with limited or null yield impact while obtaining the associated environmental benefits of this practice.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107164
JournalAgricultural Water Management
Early online date16 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

This research was supported by the FACCE-JPI NET project GreenRice (Sustainable and environmentally friendly rice cultivation systems in Europe, ref. 618105), which for M.M-E and M.C-F. was awarded through the Instituto Nacional de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA); and for AHP, YAT, VO and NC was awarded through BBSRC grant BB/M018415/1. The support of the CERCA Programme / Generalitat de Catalunya is also acknowledged. The authors also wish to thank Dr. Esperança Gacia (Blanes Centre for Advanced Studies - Higher Council of Scientific Investigations -CEAB-CSIC) for her revision of the manuscript prior to submission. The authors would like to thank Lluís Jornet, Pep Cabanes and David Mateu (IRTA-Marine and continental waters) and, Oriol Navarro (IRTA- Extensive crops) for their technical assistance in field.


  • Alternate wetting and drying
  • greenhouse gas emission
  • global warming potential
  • heavy metal
  • rice production


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