The effect of four different irrigation levels on the marketable yield and economic return of summer-growth lettuce was evaluated during 2005 and 2006 in Eastern Sicily, Italy. The viability of deficit irrigation was evaluated by estimating optimum applied water levels. Actual evapotranspiration (ETa) was estimated by combining pan evaporation measures and the Penman–Monteith approach (ET0-PM). The highest marketable yield of lettuce was recorded for plots receiving 100% ET0-PM. For deficit irrigated plots, reductions in crop production were ascribed to a decrease in lettuce weight. Crop coefficients equal to 1 determined maximum crop production values. Crop water use efficiency was maximum at a 100% ET0-PM level of water applied, corresponding to yield of 0.3 t ha−1 mm−1. Irrigation water use efficiency reached its maximum at a 40% ET0-PM level, with values of 0.54 and 0.44 t ha−1 mm−1 during 2005 and 2006, respectively. Water applied and marketable yield of lettuce showed a significant quadratic relationship. Cost functions had a quadratic form during 2005 and a linear form during 2006. In the land-limiting condition the optimal economic levels fit the agronomic ones well. In the water-limiting condition, ranges of water deficit of 15–44% and 74–94% were as profitable as full irrigation, thus contributing to appreciable water savings.
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