The incorporation of tiller manipulation by chlormequat into winter barley production systems
Chlormequat can be applied to winter barley for growth manipulation with a view to increasing ear number per m2 and hence grain yield, but, reviewing the literature on field trials showed the effects were not consistent. Previous work showed that the grain yield per m2 of winter barley was strongly correlated with the number of grains per m2 which itself was shown to be mostly influenced by the number of ears per m2. Three agronomic factors, cultivar, sowing date and nitrogen fertiliser, were identified from the literature as important influences on ear production in winter barley. These were therefore considered to have the potential to modify plant response to chlormequat, in terms of ear production, and might thus account for some of the inconsistency of the effect of chlormequat on grain yield in field trials. The intention of these studies was to move towards a description of winter barley production systems into which chlormequat may be integrated to consistently increase grain yield. Because little information was available on the growth, development and grain yield components of field grown modern winter barley cultivars, these attributes were monitored and analysed in detail for a range of modern cultivars grown at two sites in north-east Scotland in the harvest years 1984 and 1985. Tipper and Maris Otter were identified as strongly contrasting cultivars, being good examples of the extremes of the range of growth parameters found. In addition, the analyses identified the extreme importance of high cultivar biomass per plant for the attainment of high cultivar grain yield per plant. Evidence that increases in biomass have already contributed to the higher grain yields of modern cultivars of both spring barley and winter wheat was also found within the literature. The effect of chlormequat at a range of application times in the spring on early and late sowings of Igri, Tipper (low ear production) and Maris Otter (high ear production) was tested. When averaged over all cultivars and sowing dates chlormequat applied prior to stem extension significantly increased the number of ears per m2 in 1983--4 which led to increases in grain yield. In 1984--5 chlormequat applied at the start of stem extension significantly increased the number of grains per ear and significantly increased grain yield; within-plant uniformity, in terms of shoot contribution to grain yield, was also increased. Chlormequat had no consistent effect on the grain yield of the cultivars Igri and Tipper, but did increase the grain yield of both early and late sown Maris Otter by increasing the number of grains per m2. These higher grain numbers were achieved through consistent increases in the number of ears per m2 which were nearly always associated with increases in the number of grains per ear on the main stem and early primary tillers. These larger sink sizes of Maris Otter followed temporary reductions in shoot height which were offset by compensatory increases in shoot growth. The growth, development and grain yield components of Maris Otter were described in detail with a view to enabling cultivars with similar growth characteristics to be identified. Application of nitrogen fertiliser did not modify the effect of chlormequat on shoot height or shoot dry weight. In these experiments chlormequat increased neither ear number per m2 nor grain number per ear; therefore, the effect of nitrogen application strategy on the ability of chlormequat to increase in sink size could not be evaluated. It was suggested that application of chlormequat to Igri winter barley receiving more than 100 kg N/ha is unlikely to reduce grain yield. These investigations confirmed the extreme importance of high crop biomass for the attainment of high grain yield. The findings of these investigations together with the findings of a re-analysis of advisory service field trial data on the effect of chlormequat on winter barley are discussed in relation to commercial winter barley production. Finally, it is suggested that more consistent increases in grain yield may be achieved by restricting the use of chlormequat for tiller manipulation to cultivars of the Maris Otter type such as Halcyon and Pipkin which are slow developing, produce relatively large numbers of tillers and eventually many ears per plant.