Nitrogen and water-use efficiency of Australian wheat varieties released between 1958 and 2007
Review articleOpen access

AbstractWe used a collection of Australian wheats released between 1958 and 2007 to probe for time trends in evapotranspiration and nitrogen uptake, and the efficiencies in the use of water and nitrogen to produce grain yield. Yield increased linearly with year of cultivar release at a rate of 18 kg ha−1 y−1; this rate aligned with the relationship between rate of genetic gain and environmental yield from breeding programs worldwide. No time trend was apparent for seasonal evapotranspiration, hence the linear increase in yield per unit evapotranspiration with year of release which was fully accounted for by yield improvement. Under our experimental conditions, yield per unit transpiration of current varieties was ∼24 kg ha−1 mm−1, highlighting the need to update the 20 kg ha−1 mm−1 ratio commonly used in agronomic benchmarking.Yield per unit nitrogen uptake was largely unchanged as a consequence of increased nitrogen uptake that paralleled the increase in yield, and a secondary contribution of reduced grain protein concentration particularly under environmental conditions that favoured high protein. The nitrogen nutrition index, accounting for the effect of biomass on nitrogen uptake, increased linearly with year of cultivar release, hence supporting the conclusion that breeding for yield improved the nutrition status of wheat in association with an increased capacity to uptake nitrogen in equal-sized crops.

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