Near isogenic lines (NILs) varying for alleles for reduced height (Rht) and photoperiod insensitivity (Ppd-D1a) in a cvar Mercia background (rht (tall), Rht-B1b, Rht-D1b, Rht-B1c, Rht8c+Ppd-D1a, Rht-D1c, Rht12) were compared at a field site in Berkshire, UK, but within different systems (‘organic’, O, in 2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08 growing seasons v. ‘conventional’, C, in 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08 and 2008/09). In 2007 and 2008, further NILs (rht (tall), Rht-B1b, Rht-D1b, Rht-B1c, Rht-B1b+Rht-D1b, Rht-D1b+Rht-B1c) in both Maris Huntsman and Maris Widgeon backgrounds were added. The contrasting systems allowed NILs to be tested in diverse rotational and agronomic, but commercially relevant, contexts, particularly with regard to the assumed temporal distribution of nitrogen availability, and competition from weeds.
For grain, nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE; grain dry matter (DM) yield/available N; where available N=fertilizer N+soil mineral N), recovery of N in the grain (grain N yield/available N), N utilization efficiency to produce grain (NUtEg; grain DM yield/above-ground crop N yield), N harvest index (grain N yield/above-ground crop N yield) and dry matter harvest index (DMHI; grain DM yield/above-ground crop DM yield) all peaked at final crop heights of 800–950 mm. Maximum NUE occurred at greater crop heights in the organic system than in the conventional system, such that even adding just a semi-dwarfing allele (Rht-D1b) to the shortest background, Mercia, reduced NUE in the organic system. The mechanism of dwarfing (gibberellin sensitive or insensitive) made little difference to the relationship between NUE and its components with crop height.
For above-ground biomass: dwarfing alleles had a greater effect on DM accumulation compared with N accumulation such that all dwarfing alleles could reduce nitrogen utilization efficiency (NUtE; crop DM yield/crop N yield). This was particularly evident at anthesis in the conventional system when there was no significant penalty for severe dwarfism for N accumulation, despite a 3-tonne (t)/ha reduction in biomass compared to the tallest lines. Differences between genotypes for recovery of N in the grain were thus mostly a function of net N uptake after anthesis rather than of remobilized N. This effect was compounded as dwarfing, except when coupled with Ppd-D1a, was associated with delayed anthesis. In the organic experiments there was greater reliance on N accumulated before anthesis, and genotype effects on NUE were confounded with effects on N accumulated by weeds, which was negatively associated with crop height. Optimum height for maximizing wheat NUE and its components, as manipulated by Rht alleles, thus depend on growing system, and crop utilization (i.e. biomass or grain production).