BACKGROUND: While human diets are often deficient in zinc (Zn), the impacts of crop management on Zn in cereal grains are rarely examined. In this study the effect of phosphorus (P) fertiliser and crop sequence (wheat following canola, linola, fallow or pasture) on wheat grain Zn concentration and bioavailability for humans was investigated.RESULTS: The Zn concentration of wheat grain decreased by 33-39% in response to P fertiliser. It was also 30-40% lower for crops following canola and fallow than for those following linola and pasture. P fertiliser decreased the colonisation of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) in wheat roots, and canola and fallow led to lower colonisation than linola and pasture. Since AMF are known to assist in soil uptake of immobile nutrients such as Zn, it is hypothesised that P fertiliser and crop sequence affected grain Zn concentration through AMF. P fertiliser also increased the concentrations of grain P by 17% and grain phytic acid (PA) by 19%, but had little effect on the concentrations of calcium (Ca), iron (Fe) and polyphenols. Other impacts of crop sequence were slightly higher concentrations in grain of P after pasture and Fe after canola. The bioavailability of grain Zn, as shown by the PA:Zn and Ca x PA:Zn molar ratios, mostly reflected Zn concentration and was low in all treatments. After milling, the PA:Zn molar ratio suggested low Zn bioavailability for flour from wheat grown with P fertiliser after canola or fallow.CONCLUSION: Crop management can affect the bioavailability of Zn in wheat grain, with practices leading to high yields potentially leading to low Zn bioavailability. (C) 2008 Society of Chemical Industry.