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Wheat grain quality and yield in high rainfall zones increased by Nitrogen

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A Curtin University PhD student study has found wheat quality and grain yields were increased by adding nitrogen fertiliser to crops grown in high rainfall zones (HRZ) but low nutritional soils. This challenges conventional thought about grain quality in this type of environment.

Darren Hughes, 30, whose research was supported by Curtin’s Department of Environment and Agriculture and Kalyx Agriculture, tested eight wheat varieties at two high rainfall sites in Western Australia using three Nitrogen fertiliser regimes.

Results showed that environment (i.e. the effect of site and season) accounted for almost 90 per cent of the variation for grain yield, and influenced some quality characteristics including screenings, falling number and milling yield. 

“It was the nitrogen management regime adopted to counteract the effects of farm location and season that was found to be the principal source of variation for grain quality, including grain protein, dough strength and water absorption,” Mr Hughes said.

“It was also found that the variety of wheat used, or ‘cultivar,’ was the major source of variation for dough strength and dough stability, but, surprisingly had only a small affect on grain yield and grain protein.”

The results indicated when nitrogen fertiliser use was increased, all wheat varieties produced grain of acceptable quality for their grades and yields also increased.

The land use change from traditional livestock to annual cropping enterprises in the HRZ of WA’s South-West region over the past 10 years, has meant that high grain yields based on seasonal rainfall were often not achieved because of inadequate nutrition and other constraints such as water-logging and disease.

“This is very valuable research for wheat growers in WA’s high rainfall zones,” said his thesis supervisor and Professor Robert Belford.

“Realising the impact of nutrition management on quality characteristics in the HRZ of WA will be a positive step towards a sustainable industry,” Professor Belford said.

Mr Hughes was the first student to complete a PhD after entering Curtin from Morawa Agricultural School and is now the Research and Development Manager at Adveco Fertilisers in NSW, which he secured before completing his thesis.

“Conducting original research and producing meaningful results for the grains industry is very satisfying,” he said.

“Studying at Curtin helped me develop the research abilities required to undertake this kind of role.”


Professor Robert Belford, School of Environment and Agriculture, Curtin
Tel: 08 9690 1567, Mobile: 0417 987 642, Email:

Dr Darren Hughes, Research and Development Manager, Adveco Fertilisers
Tel: 0425 845 425, Email:

Teresa Belcher, Public Relations, Curtin
Tel: 08 9266 9085, Mobile: 0401 103 755, Email:;

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