Water supplies have been decreasing in several semi-arid regions, and it is therefore necessary to adopt irrigation strategies aimed at maximizing water use efficiency. In this paper, the effects of saline and deficit irrigation on water use efficiency and on potato crop response, based on observations of soil and plant water status, were investigated. Experiments were carried out in Central Tunisia, by monitoring potato crop growth during two seasons in four distinct treatments (T1–T4), represented by two different irrigation doses and two water qualities. For irrigation scheduling purposes, thresholds of soil matric potential, soil water content and Crop Water Stress Index (CWSI) were identified with the aim to quantify the effects of water and/or salinity stress on the achievable yield. Experiments allowed verifying that crop yield is strongly affected by the seasonal amount and quality of applied water. Despite differences of crop yield between treatments T2, T3 and T4 not being statistically significant (P
< 0.05), crop yield varied between 26.3 t/ha (T3 in 2015) to 16.3 t/ha (T4 in 2015). However, crop yield decline of 17.0 t/ha and 12.0 t/ha per each 100 mm decrease of applied water were observed under the application of water electrical conductivity of 1.6 dS/m and 4.1 dS/m respectively. On the other hand, an increase of 1.0 dS/m in water electrical conductivity caused a yield decline rate of about 10%. The results achieved showed that under the semi-arid climate of Tunisia, potato crop irrigation should be scheduled to avoid water deficit; however, the possibility to reduce water supply can be envisaged when water availability is limited, but with the awareness to accept the shortage of production. Finally, when saline water is the only source available to the farm, it is necessary to avoid the reduction of irrigation doses, to prevent excessive salt accumulation in the root zone with unavoidable effects on crop yield.
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