Water scarcity is a major obstacle to forage crop production in arid and semi-arid regions. In order to improve food security in these areas, it is imperative to employ suitable irrigation management techniques and identify drought-tolerant cultivars. A 2-year field experiment (2019-2020) was conducted in a semi-arid region of Iran to assess the impact of different irrigation methods and water deficit stress on forage sorghum cultivars' yield, quality, and irrigation water-use efficiency (IWUE). The experiment involved two irrigation methods, i.e., drip (DRIP) and furrow (FURW), and three irrigation regimes supplied 100% (I100), 75% (I75), and 50% (I50) of the soil moisture deficit. In addition, two forage sorghum cultivars (hybrid Speedfeed and open-pollinated cultivar Pegah) were evaluated. This study revealed that the highest dry matter yield (27.24 Mg ha-1) was obtained under I100 × DRIP, whereas the maximum relative feed value (98.63%) was achieved under I50 × FURW. Using DRIP resulted in higher forage yield and IWUE compared to FURW, and the superiority of DRIP over FURW increased with the severity of the water deficit. The principal component analysis indicated that, as drought stress severity increased across all irrigation methods and cultivars, forage yield decreased, while quality increased. Plant height and leaf-to-stem ratio were found to be suitable indicators for comparing forage yield and quality, respectively, and they showed a negative correlation between the quality and quantity of forage. DRIP improved forage quality under I100 and I75, while FURW exhibited a better feed value under the I50 regime. Altogether, in order to achieve the best possible forage yield and quality while minimizing water usage, it is recommended to grow the Pegah cultivar and compensate for 75% of soil moisture deficiency using drip irrigation.
Keywords: deficit irrigation; drip irrigation; dry matter yield; forage quality; furrow irrigation; metabolizable energy; water saving.