The possible interacting effects of shading and N supply on number of grains of Triticum aestivum L. (cv. Buck Ñandú) were investigated at Balcarce, Argentina, during the 1988/89 and 1989/90 growing seasons. Shading was imposed from c. 13 days before anthesis to 6 days after, and four rates of N fertilization were supplied within each shading treatment around the date of terminal spikelet formation. Water and other nutrients were not limiting.
Total grain yield was strongly correlated with grain number/m2, regardless of shading or N supply. At the highest N rates, grain number and dry weight of spikes at anthesis were linearly related to a photothermal quotient, i.e. the ratio of intercepted photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) to mean temperature minus 4·5 °C, during the period from 20 days before anthesis to 10 days after. The response of grain number to the photothermal quotient was interpreted in terms of the supply of assimilates to the spike at anthesis, which determined flower survival. The response of dry weight of spikes to photothermal quotient was interpreted in terms of crop growth rate since there was a linear relationship between crop growth rate and intercepted radiation. The lowest N rates reduced the number of grains/m2, at any given photothermal quotient. Since the reduction in grain number also occurred at any given dry weight of spikes, it cannot be explained by a reduced supply of assimilates to the spikes. Grain number responded directly to the supply of N to the spike, probably through the survival of differentiated flowers. The relationship between spike growth rate and crop growth rate was not affected by N supply. Crop growth rate was reduced by reduced N supply, because less radiation was intercepted and because radiation-use efficiency was lowered. These results indicate that current models for determining yield and number of grains/m2, based on crop growth, are not adequate when N is deficient.