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Rodríguez-García, R., D. Jasso de Rodríguez, and J.L. Angulo-Sánchez. 2002. Guayule production: Rubber and biomass response to irrigation. p. 240–244. In: J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.), Trends in new crops and new uses. ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA.


Guayule Production: Rubber and Biomass Response to Irrigation

Raúl Rodríguez-García, Diana Jasso de Rodríguez, and José Luis Angulo-Sánchez

Guayule (Parthenium argentatum Gray, Asteraceae), was commercially exploited for rubber production in México from 1905 to 1950. During this period the shrub was excessively harvested, leaving areas with few or no plants (McGinnies 1978; Wright et al. 1991). Despite this, native stands in the guayule region (Coahuila, Chihuahua, Durango, Nuevo León, San Luis Potosí, and Zacatecas) presently have an outstanding reestablishment. In the semiarid region in México, the rain season spans from June to September, with 300 mm annual rainfall. Rubber content in guayule native stands ranges 5% to 17% (Jasso de Rodríguez et al. 1993). No commercial activities have been carried out for a long period, mainly due to shrub availability (Nakayama et al. 1991; Estilai et al. 1992; Ray et al. 1992; Coates et al. 2001).

Harvesting guayule entails destruction, unlike tapping of the Hevea rubber tree, of the plant. The promotion of guayule crop among the semiarid region producers in México, requires crop management adapted to the socio-economical and environmental conditions.

Different studies examined optimum harvest time in order to achieve high rubber production (Nakayama 1991; Angulo Sánchez et al. 1995). Jasso Cantu et al. (1997) reported that rubber content and biomass yield increased with plant age, in a three-year experiment. Rubber content was approximately 4% during the first 18 months and increased to 8% by the experiment end. The objective of this study was to evaluate the response of guayule shrubs to irrigation treatments applied from March–June. Treatments were evaluated by biomass production and rubber content.

METHODOLOGY

Guayule seeds were collected in a native stand at Noria de Guadalupe, Zacatecas, México during November 1997. Guayule seeds were germinated in a greenhouse during February 1998; the plants were transferred to plastic bags in April and transplanted to the field by the end of June under a completely randomized design. Four plots, 152 m2 each (16 × 9.5 m) were seeded, with a distance between rows of 0.9 m and 0.36 m between plants, yielding a plant density of 30,864 plants/ha. Each plot represented a watering condition.

There were 4 treatments each year: (I) monthly, from early March until the rain season start; (II) every 45 days from early March until the rain season start (2–3 water applications); (III) every 60 days from early March until the rain season station (1–2 water applications); and (IV) not irrigated.

Water was applied by means of sprinkler irrigation. Temperature and rainfall were monitored daily during the experiment evolution. The data of irrigation numbers, water depth, rainfall, and evapotranspiration are presented in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1. Irrigation number, water depth (mm) and rainfall (mm) recorded during the guayule experiment.

Irrigation treatment 1998 1999 2000 2001
No. irriga-tions Water depth (mm) Rainfall (mm) No. irriga-tions Water depth (mm) Rainfall (mm) No. irriga-tions Water depth (mm) Rainfall (mm) No. irriga-tions Water depth (mm) Rainfall (mm)
I 2 80 447.4 4 310 271.6 4 330 360 2 152 284
II 2 80 447.4 3 215 271.6 2 248 360 2 161 284
III 2 80 447.4 2 150 271.6 1 161 360 2 161 284
IV 0 0 447.4 0 0 271.6 0 0 360 0 0 284

Table 2. Total water depth (mm), rainfall (mm), and evapotranspiration (mm) recorded during the 1998–2001 period for the guayule experiment.

Irrigation
treatment
Water depth
(mm)
Rainfall
(mm)
Evapotranspiration
(mm)
I 872 1363 2235
II 704 1363 2067
III 552 1363 1915
IV 0 1363 1363

Soil moisture content in 1999 was measured at 1.4 m depth, with neutron scattering equipment (Troxler-4300), to determine changes during the growing season. During 2000–2001 moisture content was measured by the gravimetric method at the end of February and October.

Eight harvests were carried out during the experiment, sampling seven plants from each treatment. Plant morphology was determined measuring plant height, main stem diameter, and total number of branches (e.g. primary, secondary). Besides, the rubber and resin content were determined by Soxhlet extraction using toluene as solvent for rubber and acetone for resin (Jasso de Rodríguez et al. 1993). Rubber and resin were calculated with the dry weight and rubber content data. The results were analyzed using the mean values of the variables.

RESULTS

Temperature and rainfall data are presented in Fig. 1 and 2. Minimum temperatures below zero (Fig. 1) were observed during the three winters of the experiment. Rainfall (Fig. 2) was relatively high during 1998 (summer through start of autumn) and decreased for the following years; dry conditions were observed in winter.

Fig. 1. Temperature recorded during the elapsed time of the guayule experiment.
Fig. 2. Rainfall recorded during the elapsed time of the guayule experiment.

Treatment I received a total of 12 irrigations; treatment II, 9; treatment III, 7; and treatment IV received only water from rainfall (Table 1). Water depth varied during the experiment according to treatment. Rainfall decreased from 447 to 284 mm during the experimental period (Fig. 2). Total water depth (mm), rainfall (mm), and evapotranspiration (mm) are presented in Table 2. As compared to treatment I evapotranspiration decreased 7.5% in treatment II as compared 14.31% in treatment III and 39.01% in treatment IV.

Dry weigh accumulation for the different treatments is shown in Fig. 3. There was a direct relationship between dry weight and treatment. Two growing stages were observed. In an early stage (up to month 27) dry weight increased rapidly for treatments I–III, in agreement with results of Jasso Cantu et al. (1997). In the second growing stage the rate of change decreased and was almost constant for treatment IV during the experiment (Table 3).

Fig. 3. Dry weight accumulation as a function of time during the guayule experiment.

Table 3. Growing rate, expressed as the slope of the least squares linear regression, and correlation coefficients for the two growing stages of the dry weight as a function of elapsed time for the guayule experiment.

Irrigation
treatment
First growing stage Second growing stage
Slope r Slope r
I 0.987 0.997 0.276 0.996
II 0.641 0.978 0.331 0.982
III 0.464 0.976 0.387 0.989
IV 0.138 0.940 0.153 0.920

Main stem diameter, plant height, and total number of branches for the different sampling dates are presented in Fig. 4–6. These results indicate that good water management promotes biomass accumulation during spring–summer. Irrigation is most effective at early stages of growth.

Fig. 4. Main stem diameter for the guayule plants of the experiment.
Fig. 5. Plant height of guayule plants of the experiment.
 
Fig. 6. Total branches number of guayule plants for the experimental treatments.
 

Rubber content in the plant for all treatments was similar (Fig. 7), around 4% for young plants and 8% for 3–4 year-old plants, which agrees with our results on cultivated plants (Jasso Cantu et al. 1997). The resin content (Fig. 8) showed only slight variations during the experiment time for all treatments.

Fig. 7. Rubber content as a function of time for the experiment guayule plants.
Fig. 8. Resin content as a function of time for the experiment guayule plants.

The rubber and resin yields (Fig. 9 and 10) were directly proportional to amount of water. At the end of the experiment, total rubber yield was: 1001 kg/ha for treatment I; 975 kg/ha for treatment II; 761 kg/ha for treatment III; and 309 kg/ha for treatment IV. The results for treatment I and II were slightly higher than those reported by Nakayama (1991) for adequately irrigated plots with a plant population of 37,300 plants/ha. Treatment III yield similar rubber yield although plant population was 30,864 plants/ha.

Fig. 9. Rubber yield as a function of time for guayule plants.
Fig. 10. Resin yield as a function of time for guayule plants.

CONCLUSIONS

The yields of biomass, rubber and resin for guayule plants were a direct function of irrigation; yield increased with amount of water applied. Total rubber yield after 45 months for treatments I and II was slightly higher than that reported by Nakayama (1991) for adequately irrigated plots with a higher plant density. Irrigation in the first months of the plant evolution produces heavy branching and the growth rate was higher during the first 24–27 months.

These results indicate that good water management would promote biomass accumulation during spring–summer, allowing for rubber production in the winter cycles. This supports the proposition that guayule, as a crop, must be incorporated into the production system of semiarid regions as a complement to annual crops. Guayule is a semi-wild plant requiring few inputs, but approximately 4 years is required for acceptable rubber production.

REFERENCES