With favourable seasonal conditions in the southern cropping region elevating the yield prospects of this year's winter crops, grain growers are eager to meet the nutrient demands of their crops to capture the potential on offer.
To support growers and advisers in understanding the in-season nitrogen (N) requirements of crops, the GRDC has published a 'Nitrogen Reference Manual For The Southern Cropping Region'.
The manual, available for viewing and downloading online, is a comprehensive guide to understanding, managing and estimating N requirements from paddock-to-paddock and season-to-season.
It was collated by a team from the University of Adelaide, University of New England, University of Melbourne and advisers, as part of a GRDC-invested project.
The manual outlines key N fertiliser decision points for cereal crops, including at:
- tillering - re-assess soil moisture and yield potential, check tiller number in relation to current estimate of yield potential, and apply N to increase tiller number if required
- stem elongation - re-assess soil moisture, tiller number and yield potential based on seasonal rainfall and outlook, apply fertiliser N if required to match potential yield and grain protein target
- booting - if yield potential has increased significantly, additional N may be needed to maintain desirable protein levels.
Project leader Associate Professor Matthew Denton, from the University of Adelaide, says it is important for growers to make proactive assessments in-season and add N if it is needed - especially in good seasons.
"Adjusting in-season inputs to the estimated yield potential helps minimise seasonal and economic risks," he says.
"However, waiting for visual signs of nitrogen deficiency - such as pale leaves and low tiller numbers - will mean yield potential will have already been compromised."
Fertiliser and mineralisation
Asoc Prof Denton says there are some useful rules-of-thumb that can help growers with their N decisions, but N budgeting approaches that are timely and take into account N supply from fertiliser, soil mineral N and the likely mineralisation of organic matter are needed for more accurate N management.
"Monitoring soil moisture and nitrogen and careful management of nitrogen inputs is vital to ongoing productivity," he says.
The GRDC manual includes information about the various N decision support tools available to growers and advisers.
The GRDC has also invested in a preliminary assessment of tools for estimating N mineralisation during crop growth in the southern cropping region.
GRDC Manager Soils and Nutrition - South, Stephen Loss, says insufficient supplies of N from the soil and fertiliser inputs are important factors in the difference between yield achieved by growers and their crop's water-limited yield potential.
"Over recent decades, cropping rotations have intensified, pasture production has declined, and crop yield potential and nitrogen requirements have increased," Dr Loss says.
"Data indicates soil organic matter contents are declining in most cases and the nitrogen being removed from the system is not being adequately replaced by fertiliser applications or fixed by legumes in the rotation."
Dr Loss says a separate GRDC investment had recently monitored about 200 paddocks across Australia for three seasons.
He says findings included that, while most crops did not have a major yield gap, many in high rainfall conditions were not achieving yield potential - largely because N supplies were insufficient for their demands.
GRDC Research Code: UA00165
More Information: Stephen Loss, GRDC, 0408 412 453, Stephen.Loss@grdc.com.au