A method that determines the ideal fertiliser application for wheat crops – without sacrificing yield or protein content – has been proven to reduce fertiliser input requirement, decrease greenhouse gas emissions and increase net income for grain growers.
The Director of The University of Western Australia’s Institute of Agriculture Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique contributed to the seven-year research project, which was led by scientists from Northwest A&F University in China.
The study, recently published in the journal Field Crops Research, aimed to produce high grain yield and protein content for wheat production in China using a High Nutrient-Use Efficiency Based Fertiliser Recommendation (High NUFER) method.
Image: Dr Mark Sweetingham, farmer Daniel Birch, UWA Professor Wallace Cowling, farmer Rod Birch and Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique pictured in a wheat field.
According to the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, Western Australian farmers increased their use of fertiliser fourfold between 1990 and 2018.
Fertiliser was also the main source of WA farm costs at approximately 18 per cent.
Similarly in China, fertiliser use increased 511 per cent from 1978 to 2019, with grain production increasing by only 118 per cent in the same period.
China is the world’s largest producer and user of fertilisers, with numerous reports of fertiliser overuse.
Although chemical fertiliser application is key to ensuring high and stable crop production, Professor Siddique said excessive fertilisation reduced fertiliser efficiency and farm economic benefits and caused various environmental problems.
“Over-applied fertilisation has been shown to cause excessive nitrate-N in water, eutrophication and greenhouse gas emissions that threaten drinking water quality and environmental safety,” he said.
"This study provides scientific guidance for saving costs, increasing farm income and improving sustainable agricultural development in China and other countries in similar situations, such as Australia."Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique
For the study, the research team conducted farm surveys covering 1,575 fields in 17 of China’s major wheat production provinces from 2015 to 2019.
The on-farm information included wheat planting area, varieties, field management, soil nutrient status and fertilisation status.
Wheat plant and soil samples were also collected from farmers' fields for measurement and analysis.
From 2020 to 2021, the researchers verified the High NUFER method in 46 sites across seven major wheat production provinces.
Professor Siddique said the validation experiments in the final year of the study proved that fertilisers were over-applied and often imbalanced.
"It revealed that the recommended fertiliser application based on High NUFER reduced nitrogen and phosphorus fertiliser use without affecting grain yield and protein content, relative to the farmer’s previous fertilisation application," he said.
"The reduced fertiliser improved the partial productivity of nitrogen and phosphorous fertiliser and alleviated soil available potassium depletion.
“With the High NUFER method, grain growers can reduce their fertiliser input, thereby increasing economic benefits and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Similar studies are urgently needed in Australia and other wheat-growing countries, with the involvement of relevant farmer groups.”
Rosanna Candler (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) +61 08 6488 1650
Hackett Professor Kadambot Siddique (Director, The UWA Institute of Agriculture) +61 08 6488 7012