Collaboration grows crop nutrition R&D

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Photo of a gathered group

Some of the researchers from the More Profit from Crop Nutrition phase II project who recently met in Perth: (from left) Margaret Roper from CSIRO, Liam Ryan and Ross Brennan from DAFWA, Professor Zed Rengel from UWA, Roger Lawes and Elliot Duncan from CSIRO, Kelly Ryan and Craig Scanlan from DAFWA, and Louise Barton from UWA.

PHOTO: Cox Inall Communications

Fertiliser inputs are the biggest variable expense for grain growers, comprising about 13 per cent of each season’s total cropping costs. 

However, crop nutrition – in terms of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S) and micronutrients – is also a major profit driver.

The GRDC’s More Profit from Crop Nutrition phase II program (MPCN II) aims to help growers optimise returns from fertiliser and nutrition investments by improving:

  • the nutrient-use efficiency of crops through plant breeding;
  • the capacity of soils to free-up and supply nutrients;
  • the match between N, P, K, S and micronutrient applications and crop needs; and
  • fertiliser and adjuvant product formulation and design.

Researchers from the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), the University of Western Australia (UWA), Murdoch University and CSIRO are collaborating on 26 key national projects through MPCN II.

Major projects underway in WA include development of regional soil testing and nutrient guidelines, N response curves, managing K nutrition to alleviate crop stresses, assessing nutritional benefits of clay amendments and cultivation on sands, and improving wheat nitrogen-use efficiency.

UWA researcher Professor Zed Rengel told a recent national MPCN II team update meeting in Perth that his research team had confirmed a gene-by-environment interaction for wheat and barley nitrogen use efficiency.

“From our screening, it appears cereal breeders have been inadvertently selecting for nitrogen use efficiency when selecting for yield.” 

Based on trials of 1377 wheat and 551 barley genotypes in a range of WA, New South Wales and Victorian environments between 2009 and 2013, Professor Rengel says there were some varieties and advanced breeding lines that were highly efficient at nitrogen use in both low and high soil nitrogen conditions.

New MPCN II projects to be carried out in WA from 2014 include investigating the effects of root variation in winter cereals and micronutrient nutrition.

Another project – ‘Managing Micronutrient Deficiencies in Cropping Systems in WA’ – is being led by DAFWA’s Ross Brennan.

These projects run in parallel with projects in eastern states and the outcome from this work will include new regional guidelines for micronutrient nutrition.

More information:

Jan Edwards, GRDC/MPCN
02 6166 4500

Professor Zed Rengel
08 6488 2557

More Profit from Crop Nutrition

A fact sheet on Soil Testing for Crop Nutrition (western region) is available at:


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GRDC Project Code DAW00222, DAW00223, DAW00239, UWA00133, UWA00156, UMU00041, UMU00042, CSA00032

Region South, West, North