Can increased nutrition raise cereal yields to the rainfall-limited potential in the high rainfall cropping zone of south Western Australia?

N.L. Simpson (nee Hill), R. Mctaggart, Walter Anderson, L. Anderton

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    Average yield of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) and barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) in the high rainfall cropping zone (>750 mm) of south Western Australia from 1996 to 2001 was 2.5 t/ha. This is far below the water-limited potential yield (water losses of 110 mm, transpiration efficiency of 20 kg/ of 6–8 t/ha. Nutrition of the cereal crops has been regarded as one constraint to reaching the potential yield, although grain yield increases (responses) under conventional management practices (a series of full cultivation operations) have been inconsistent. Three experiments, with a total of five trial sites conducted over two seasons, were carried out to test the response of wheat and barley to fertiliser applications of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S) and trace elements (TE). Various combinations of nutrients were applied. These ranged from no fertiliser (nil), to farmer practice (N at rates at 34–82 kg/ha, P at 3–17 kg/ha, K at 0–50 kg/ha and S at 4–11 kg/ha), to nutrients calculated to supply the needs of a 6–8 t/ha cereal crop (N, P, K, S, TE). The aim was to determine whether the supply of non-limiting levels of crop nutrients could raise yields to the potential yield as determined by seasonal rainfall. In the drier seasons experienced in 2001 and 2002 at Arthur River and Cranbrook, with growing season rainfall (May–November) up to about 350 mm, it was possible to raise grain yields to levels at or above the calculated rainfall-limited potential with increased nutrition (4.2 t/ha for barley and 4.5 t/ha for wheat). However, in the wetter environment of Boyup Brook in 2002, where seasonal rainfall was greater than 500 mm, extra nutrition by itself was not sufficient to reach the water-limited potential, even where the yields were increased from 3.5 to 5.2 t/ha for wheat and from 3.9 to 4.5 t/ha for barley. Further experimentation is required to clarify the factors limiting responses to nutrition when the growing season rainfall is greater than 500 mm and thus allow greater confidence in extrapolating these results in the high rainfall cropping zone of Western Australia. In wheat, the highest profits were obtained from the complete fertiliser strategy (N, P, K, S, TE). However, for barley, the greatest profits were not obtained with the highest grain yields and fertiliser strategies due to decreased grain quality.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)39-47
    JournalAustralian Journal of Experimental Agriculture
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


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