Researchers compare nutrient uptake in modern and historic wheat varieties

Posted March 9, 2017

By Hannah Schlapp, Kansas Wheat Communications Intern

As the times change, so does the wheat crop and the practices needed to help it thrive. What may have been cutting edge management for wheat twenty years ago could be vastly outdated due to today’s technological advancements. Thankfully, Romulo Lollato, Kansas State University wheat and forages extension agronomist; Allan Fritz, wheat breeder in KSU’s agronomy department; and Dorivar Ruiz Diaz, KSU associate professor and nutrient management specialist in agronomy, have started a study to help Kansas farmers maintain budget-friendly cutting edge nutrition management practices. This research will help determine whether modern varieties differ in their nutrient uptake compared to historic varieties, while also vetting two separate nutrient management programs. Interest in this research was sparked due to the rise in yields throughout the past generations.

“Some previous studies have shown that wheat breeding here in Kansas and many other regions of the world has increased the potential yields of wheat varieties with every released generation, and it will likely continue to increase with generations to come,” said Lollato, who is leading this research project. “However, we don’t know if we’re indirectly switching when and how much plants need to uptake their nitrogen or any other nutrients they need, and how varieties partition those nutrients within the plant into leaves, stem and grain.”

Because the nutrient uptake process is critical for fertilizer application, this research will help Lollato and his team determine what type of nutrient management practices farmers should be using for current wheat varieties. However, this means that they need to first know the timing of the nutrient uptake and nutrient translocation in modern wheat varieties in order to make accurate recommendations.

“Most of our recommendations were developed in the 1980s, for the varieties widely used back then. Now, for today’s modern wheat varieties, we want to figure out if the wheat has increased the need for nutrients and if we should be applying more. Or maybe it’s using nutrients more efficiently, and maybe we should be applying less. But, we don’t know. We don’t have that data yet,” says Lollato.

When the data is analyzed, the research team will also know the most efficient timing and the correct rate for nutrient application so they can make up-to-date application recommendations. At the conclusion of the study, researchers will have a more accurate set of recommendations for nutrient applications, something that may save farmers money towards their input costs.

The research started in July 2016, so at this point, there are no absolute results. The study will put both modern and historic varieties through two different nutrient fertilization programs.

The first program is called “common practice,” a top-dress nitrogen application during Feekes GS stages 4-5. The second program involves a “balanced nutrition” where researchers take K-State’s recommendations for maximum yield, based off soil test recommendations. Researchers are using nine varieties from different generations (from 1920s releases like Turkey Red, until modern releases such as “Larry”) and putting them through the balanced nutrition program and through the common practice program to maintain consistency and accurate comparisons.

The team will also be sampling the biomass from each plot throughout the growing season and sending it to the KSU Soil Fertility Laboratory for nutrient concentration analysis. Once the data is collected, they will be able to determine the micro- and macronutrient concentration and partitioning between the leaves, stems and grain. Once the crop has reached harvest maturity, yield and yield components will be measured. Comparisons will be made among varieties between the fertilization practices that were used.

Funding for this research has been provided by Kansas wheat farmers through the Kansas Wheat Commission’s two penny wheat assessment. The completion of this research will benefit the farmers in more ways than one.

“After completing the research, if we do find out there’s been a shift in timing of nutrient uptake and partitioning, as well as nutrient amount, ultimately we can improve our management recommendations so the crop will be more successful,” Lollato says.