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Sulphur uptake, yield responses and the interactions between nitrogen and sulphur in winter oilseed rape (Brassica napus)

  • S. P. McGrath (a1) and F. J. Zhao (a1)

Field experiments were conducted to test the seed yield responses of winter oilseed rape (Brassica napus L., cvs Libravo or Falcon) to the addition of different rates of S fertilizer, at three N application rates, on a sandy loam at Woburn, Bedfordshire, in 1990/91, 1991/92 and 1993/94. Large increases in seed yields, ranging from 0·7 to 1·6 t/ha, or 42–267% on a relative scale, were obtained in response to the application of 40 kg S/ha with 180 and 230 kg N/ha treatments. The effects of S were highly significant in 1991/92 (P < 0·01) and 1993/94 (P < 0·001) and close to significant (P = 0·053) in 1990/91. The yield benefits were obtained mainly from the application of the first 10 kg S/ha and further yield increases were unlikely above 40 kg S/ha. Increasing N application from 180 to 230 kg/ha decreased seed yield in 1990/91 and 1993/94, when no S was applied. In contrast, seed yield was not increased by S at zero or low (50 or 100 kg/ha) N rates. The interactions between N and S on seed yield were significant (P < 0·05) in 1990/91 but not in the other two seasons. Application of S also increased seed oil content in 1993/94, when the degree of S deficiency was particularly severe. With an application of 230 kg N/ha, the crops took up 5–22 kg S/ha at maturity when no S was applied and 26–51 kg S/ha when 40 kg S/ha was applied. The utilization efficiency of the fertilizer S ranged from 50 to 73% in the three seasons. Although the concentrations of total N in plants were largely unaffected by S treatments, large amounts of NO3-N accumulated in the leaves of S-deficient plants in 1993/94. This indicates that N metabolism was disrupted by S deficiency. The concentrations of S and the N: S ratios in different tissues and the whole plant changed considerably with time. The concentration of S in leaves at early flowering was found to be the best index in predicting S deficiency in terms of seed yield, and a critical value of 3·8 mg/g was obtained. In comparison, the N: S ratio in leaves at early flowering was a much poorer predictor of S deficiency.

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  • ISSN: 0021-8596
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