Strong, straight and nutritious: research to improve cereal crops

Keeping cereal crops healthy and strong over the summer gives them their best shot of producing a high yield of grain. How to achieve that is the focus of the cereal research taking place at Lakeland College, led by Laurel Perrott.

Recent research trials have had three main themes: in-season nitrogen fertility, optimal fungicide timing, and preventing lodging. Under the first theme, Perrott is studying the effect of applying additional nitrogen fertilizer on different varieties and classes of wheat after the crop has emerged, either early or later in the season.

She’s also studying barley foliar fungicide timing. Fungicides are commonly used in cereals to protect the green leaf area in the upper canopy, so the plant can continue producing the carbohydrates needed to fully fill the grain head, right until the end of the season. Perrott is testing fungicide timing under normal conditions and also where there’s high pressure from disease on the plants. Ultimately, this work will help growers know the optimum time for applying fungicides, depending on whether they rotate their crops more or less often.

Lodging (the displacement of roots or stems so stalks don’t grow straight) is a major headache for grain producers because it can lower yields and reduce their nutrient value. Perrott is tackling the problem through collaborative research. Until recently, growers had two tools available to them for combatting lodging — choosing to use only varieties known to grow straighter, and low nitrogen fertility.

Unfortunately, varieties that stand well do not always perform adequately in other ways, and low levels of nitrogen reduce yield. Although they are not yet registered for use on barley, Perrot is testing two “plant growth regulators” on it for their ability to shorten the stem of the crop and keep it standing, even where nitrogen fertility is high.

Industry: Agriculture

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