Relative contribution of soil N availability and grain sink demand to the control of post-anthesis N uptake by field-grown spring barley

IJ Bingham*, Diana C Garzon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Context: Increasing nitrogen (N) use efficiency of cereal production requires the optimisation of the source-sink
relationships governing N accumulation by the grain, post-anthesis N uptake (PANU) and remobilization of N
from vegetative tissue. There is evidence that N uptake may be regulated by both plant demand, of which grain N
demand is the major component after flowering, and by N availability in the soil but the relative contribution of
each to the control of PANU in field-grown barley crops is not understood.
Objective: The objectives were to investigate the control of PANU by determining its response to variations in N
supply and grain N demand in crops differing in N status and soil mineral N content at flowering.
Methods: Field experiments were conducted on spring barley (Hordeum vulgare L.) over three years between 2011
and 2014. N fertilizer application at anthesis was used to vary post-anthesis N supply whilst partial degraining
and barley variety were used to vary grain N demand. These treatments were imposed independently or in
factorial combination depending on the experiment. Contrasting fertilizer regimes before or at the start of
tillering, sites and seasonal weather generated a range of crop and SMN contents at flowering. Measurements
were made of above-ground crop N content and soil mineral N (SMN) through the season.
Results: By, or shortly after, anthesis the SMN content of the root-zone had depleted to a relatively steady
minimum value of around 60–115 kg N ha􀀀 1 depending on the site and year. PANU of control plants (nondegrained
and without additional N fertilizer at anthesis) ranged from 􀀀 20–70 kg N ha􀀀 1. Additional N fertilizer
increased (P < 0.05) PANU in all experiments, whilst degraining reduced it significantly only in 2012. The
response to degraining and anthesis N application were unaffected by crop N status at anthesis. There was no
relationship between PANU and the unsatisfied grain N demand (that not met by retranslocation alone) at any
level of anthesis N-fertilizer application in 2014. In 2012 there was a weak relationship accounting for only a
small amount of the variation in PANU.
Conclusions: PANU of spring barley is limited mostly by N availability to the root system and not by a low grain N
demand. High residual SMN contents at harvest and the poor relationship between SMN at anthesis and PANU
suggest that transfer of N from bulk soil to the sites of active uptake at the root surface is a major limitation to
Implications: Increasing N uptake efficiency during grain filling will require improvements at the root-soil
interface and not an increase in grain N demand.
Original languageEnglish
Article number108829
Number of pages13
JournalField Crops Research
Early online date21 Jan 2023
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Mar 2023


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