Multifactorial experiments at Rothamsted Experimental Station in two contrasting seasons, 1985/86 and 1986/87, tested the effects of treatment combinations that varied the supply of nitrogen at important stages of crop development in autumn and spring on the grain yield and nitrogen content of September- and October-sown winter wheat. Treatments that altered the nitrogen supply in autumn were an application of winter fertilizer N and sowing the wheat after rape or oats, which left different amounts of residual N. These were combined with treatments which tested the effects of 200 kg N/ha in spring applied as early or late dressings and as single or divided dressings. The effect of applying an additional 50 kg N/ha in summer was also tested in 1985/86.
In both experiments, larger yields were obtained from sowing in September than in October. The September-sown wheat grew better over winter in 1986/87 than in 1985/86 but the early advantage in size and N uptake resulted in enhanced production of straw rather than grain. Residues of N from previous crops were smaller after oats than rape in both years. This difference in soil N did not affect the over-winter growth and N uptake of the October-sown wheats. Neither this difference in residual N nor an application of fertilizer N in winter affected the yield of the following September-sown wheat in 1985/86 because autumn growth and N uptake were restricted by adverse weather. In 1986/87, however, wheat that followed oats yielded 0·42 t/ha less grain than wheat that followed rape, and the deficit in yield was removed by an application of fertilizer N equivalent to the deficit in soil N.
Yields were decreased when the spring N was applied as a delayed, single dressing in April especially if the wheat was sown in September after oats, or was not given winter N. Yields were not affected by any of the other combinations of single v. divided dressings or early v. late applications of spring N, despite these being given at very different stages of apical development.
The percentage of N in the harvested grain was greatly increased by winter applications of fertilizer N, especially to wheat grown after oats, by applying the spring N as a late, single dressing and, in 1986, by applying N in summer.