On-farm assessment of regional and seasonal variation in sunflower yield in Argentina
Review articleOpen access

AbstractUsing an on-farm approach, we investigated constraints to actual yield of sunflower in six agroecological zones within the Argentine Pampas during three growing seasons. In 249 large, grower-managed paddocks, we quantified a series of variables related to: (1) crop phenology, growth, and yield; (2) the physical and biological environment; and (3) management practices. Variation in yield among zones and seasons was analysed on the basis of four biologically-founded assumptions: (1) grain number accounts for a large proportion of the variation in yield; (2) grain number is associated with a photothermal coefficient, Q=R (T-Tb)−1, where R and T are average solar radiation and air temperature respectively, during the 50-day period bracketing anthesis; and Tb is a base temperature; (3) crop growth and yield are proportional to light interception, and therefore proportional to canopy ground cover; and (4) yield is proportional to the fraction of seasonal rainfall that occurs after anthesis. Average yield ranged from 1.1 to 2.7 t ha−1, grain number from 2400 to 5400 m−2, individual grain mass between 40 and 69 mg and grain oil concentration between 42 and 52%. Grain number accounted for 43% of the variation in average yield while Q accounted for 23% of the variation in grain number. Low yield was associated with deficient ground cover in 25% of the crops; part of the remaining variation in yield was accounted for by sets of measured variables particular to each zone, including soil shallowness, low available P, low initial water content, weeds and diseases — chiefly Verticillium wilt (Verticillium dahliae) and Sclerotinia head rot (Sclerotinia sclerotiorum). Across zones and seasons, the proportion of seasonal rainfall occurring after anthesis accounted for 28% of the variation in crop yield. A trade-off is highlighted whereby beneficial effects of rainfall that favours growth and yield may be offset by the detrimental effect of abundant moisture that favours major fungal diseases. We emphasised the value of combining experimental studies — which provide biological background in the form of working hypotheses — with on-farm research that realistically quantifies yield response to key factors.

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