Ridge–furrow cultivation with plastic film mulching has been widely used for many years to increase crop yields in semiarid regions. The long-term effects of plastic mulching on crop yield and soil water balance need to be seriously considered to assess the sustainability of this widely used field management technique. A seven-year maize field experiment was conducted during 2012–2018 to estimate the yield sustainability and soil water balance with two treatments—mulching (yes; no) and nitrogen fertilization (yes; no). This resulted in the following four groups—no film mulching, no N application (M0N0); film mulching, no N application (M1N0); no film mulching, N application (M0N1); film mulching and N application (M1N1). Our results show that plastic mulching significantly increased maize yield. A combination of mulching and nitrogen application had the highest sustainability yield index (SYI) of 0.75, which was higher than the other three treatments, with SYI values of 0.31, 0.33, and 0.39, respectively. Plastic film mulching increased soil water content and water storage in both the sowing and harvesting periods and did not cause the formation of dry soil layers. Precipitation storage efficiency (PSE) in the nongrowing season played a key role in maintaining the soil water balance and it was positively affected by plastic film mulching. Our research indicates that plastic mulching and N application could maintain maize yield sustainability and the soil water balance of agriculture in semiarid regions. In addition, we highlight the importance of nongrowing season precipitation, and thus, we suggest that mulching the field land with plastic film throughout the whole year should be adopted by farmers to store more precipitation, which is important to crop growth.
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