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The effect of soil tillage system on the nitrogen uptake, grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency of spring barley in a cool Atlantic climate

  • J. BRENNAN (a1) (a2), P. D. FORRISTAL (a2), T. McCABE (a1) and R. HACKETT (a2)


Field experiments were conducted between 2009 and 2011 in Ireland to compare the effects of soil tillage systems on the grain yield, nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) and nitrogen (N) uptake patterns of spring barley (Hordeum vulgare) in a cool Atlantic climate. The four tillage treatments comprised conventional tillage in spring (CT), reduced tillage in autumn (RT A), reduced tillage in spring (RT S) and reduced tillage in autumn and spring (RT A+S). Each tillage system was evaluated with five levels of fertilizer N (0, 75, 105, 135 and 165 kg N/ha). Grain yield varied between years but CT had a significantly higher mean yield over the three years than the RT systems. There was no significant difference between the three RT systems. Tillage system had no significant effect on the grain yield response to fertilizer N. As a result of the higher yields achieved, the CT system had a higher NUE than the RT systems at all N rates. There was no significant difference in NUE between the three RT systems. Conventional tillage had significantly higher nitrogen uptake efficiency (NUpE) than RT A and a significantly higher nitrogen utilization efficiency (NUtE) than all three RT systems. Crop N uptake followed a similar pattern each year. Large amounts of N were accumulated during the vegetative growth stages while N was lost after anthesis. Increased N rates had a positive effect on N uptake in the early growth stages but tended to promote N loss later in the season. The CT system had the highest N uptake in the initial growth stages but its rate of uptake diminished at a faster rate than the RT systems as the season progressed. Tillage system had an inconsistent effect on crop N content during the later growth stages. On the basis of these results it is concluded that the use of non-inversion tillage systems for spring barley establishment in a cool oceanic climate remains challenging and in certain conditions may result in a reduction in NUE and lower and more variable grain yields than conventional plough-based systems.


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