Nineteen wheat cultivars, released from 1934 to 2000, were grown at two organic and two non-organic sites in each of 3 years (2004–05, 2005–06 and 2006–07). Assessments included grain yield, grain protein concentration, protein yield, disease incidence and green leaf area (GLA). The superiority of each cultivar (the sum of the squares of the differences between its mean in each environment and the mean of the best cultivar there, divided by twice the number of environments; CS) was calculated for yield, grain protein concentration and protein yield, and ranked in each environment. The yield and grain protein concentration CS were more closely correlated with cultivar release date at the non-organic sites than at organic sites. This difference may be attributed to higher yield levels with larger differences among cultivars at the non-organic sites, rather than to improved stability (i.e. similar ranks) across sites. The significant difference in the correlation of protein yield CS and cultivar age between organic and non-organic sites would support evidence that the ability to take up mineral nitrogen (N) compared to soil N has been a component of the selection conditions of more modern cultivars (released after 1989). This is supported by assessment of GLA, where more modern cultivars in the non-organic systems had greater late-season GLA, a trend that was not identified in organic conditions. This effect could explain the poor correlation between age and protein yield CS in organic compared to non-organic conditions where modern cultivars are selected to benefit from later nitrogen (N) availability which includes the spring nitrogen applications tailored to coincide with peak crop demand. Under organic management, N release is largely based on the breakdown of fertility-building crops incorporated (ploughed-in) in the previous autumn. The release of nutrients from these residues is dependent on the soil conditions, which includes temperature and microbial populations, in addition to the potential leaching effect of high winter rainfall in the UK. In organic cereal crops, early resource capture is a major advantage for maximizing the utilization of nutrients from residue breakdown. It is concluded that selection of cultivars under conditions of high agrochemical inputs selects for cultivars that yield well under maximal conditions in terms of nutrient availability and pest, disease and weed control. The selection conditions for breeding have a tendency to select cultivars which perform relatively better in non-organic compared to organic systems.
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