Nutrient research for cereals and oilseeds

With fertiliser prices skyrocketing and the pressure to reduce nutrient losses increasing, AHDB research aims to deliver robust nutrient management guidance, via RB209.

The nutrient management challenge

Input-cost and commodity-price volatility means a constant eye needs to be kept on the nutrient management equation. With climate change mitigation firmly back on the world’s radar, in addition to numerous other environmental concerns, the AHDB Nutrient management guide (RB209) is needed more than ever. With fertiliser prices at historic highs, this area of research is a high priority.

AHDB research focuses on:

  • Providing robust guidance on the use of fertiliser, manure and slurry applications to cropped land, via RB209
  • Funding research to address major nutrient management knowledge gaps
  • Communicating ways to optimise nutrient use that maximises farm profitability and minimises environmental impacts

Current nutrient research activity*

Managing expensive fertiliser

It is essential to understand the point at which the value of extra grain produced is not worth the cost of the extra nitrogen applied. To account for the ‘economic optimum’ associated with higher fertiliser prices, we commissioned a rapid review. Published in autumn 2021, RB209 price tables were extended to the equivalent to £863/t of ammonium nitrate. The tables were also extended to £350/t for cereals and £700/t for rapeseed to account for stronger prices. A second (ongoing) part of the review considers the impact on quality specifications and the value of nitrogen from non-fertiliser sources.

How best to respond to costly fertiliser nitrogen for use in 2022

Fertiliser adjustment calculator

Based on the revised price data, we issued a fertiliser adjustment calculator to help farmers determine changes to the typical farm nitrogen rates.

Nitrogen fertiliser adjustment calculator for cereals and oilseeds

Nitrogen and sulphur management in wheat

There is some uncertainty associated with the current nitrogen recommendations in modern milling wheat varieties. This project will help farmers optimise nitrogen strategies and achieve optimum protein quality – under various soil and environmental conditions. The project also explores the use of sulphur (S) fertiliser inputs in relation to nitrogen (N) fertiliser, as the N:S ratio can impact upon grain protein quality, the production of asparagine and baking performance.

Nitrogen and sulphur fertiliser management to achieve grain protein quality targets of high-yielding winter milling wheat

The ability to accurately predict grain protein content during late stem extension (GS37–39) is under investigation in a linked research project. If successful, the work will help people target nitrogen for protein more effectively. Critically, it will help farmers decide whether to continue with a milling-wheat strategy or adopt a lower cost feed-wheat strategy, instead.

Early prediction of grain protein content to guide nitrogen management in winter milling wheat

Nitrogen and management in oats

UK oat production has increased substantially over the past 20 years, particularly to meet demand for milling quality oats. Although the 2017 RB209 revision improved guidance of nitrogen application in oats, large data gaps remained for modern spring and winter oat crops – in relation to yield and quality. This research will improve information on nitrogen rates and timings. Additionally, as sulphur recommendations are largely based on trials conducted on other cereal crops, this work will assess whether recommendations need to be tailored to oats.

Nitrogen and sulphur fertiliser management for yield and quality in winter and spring oats

Rapid tests for soil phosphate

A prototype rapid kit for testing available soil phosphate in the field offers the potential to test levels of this nutrient at a frequency and spatial resolution appropriate to the farm. In this project, farmers will test the prototype. The work will also improve the useable of the kit and explore ways to bring it to market.

Available soil phosphate test kit field trials

*A report is submitted at the end of each project. After review (which can take several weeks), the final project report is published on the corresponding project page. At this stage, the project is official complete.

Other nutrient research projects

Recently completed projects

Barley nutrition

In recent years, some farmers have returned to growing barley or are new to the crop – especially spring barley. Area changes have seen the crop grown in areas beyond the traditional light-textured soils, including those with a heavier texture. With new spring barley varieties also hitting the AHDB Recommended Lists (RL) each year – altering nutrient-use efficiency dynamics – we commissioned ADAS to lead research to help RB209 keep pace with modern production systems. The work featured an impressive array of trials, building on bespoke research experiments conducted as part of the project (2018–20), and a review of other recent experiments (2005–17). With rates, timings, yield and quality in the spotlight, the work represents one of the most significant investments in nutrient management for spring barley for quite some time.

Updating nitrogen and sulphur fertiliser recommendations for spring barley

Topsoil and subsoil nutrients

Before work on HS2 started, a detailed assessment of the rail route occurred. It unearthed prehistoric remnants and Roman battlefields – but it also yielded an agricultural treasure trove. The collection of over 1,400 topsoil and upper-subsoil (<50 cm) samples along the track’s route provided a unique analysis opportunity. AHDB funded an analysis of these samples by Reading Agricultural Consultants, which focused on the relationship between nutrients/pH in the topsoil and the more mysterious subsoil.

Analysis of top and subsoil data from High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project

Liming review

Changes to support mechanisms, lime products and farming systems, mean a review of liming guidance was overdue – not only in relation to lime’s influence on soil pH, but also its role in delivering calcium, an essential nutrient, to crops. During the production of RB209 we work with partners across industry – and the Agricultural Lime Association (ALA) was best placed to conduct the initial review (at no cost to AHDB).

Review of soil acidity and liming guidance

Other recently completed projects

Biostimulants and nitrogen management: an assessment of famer-led trials (Angus Smart Arable Farm 2021)

All nutrient research projects

Information on all nutrient research projects is available in our research archive:

  • In the ‘Sector’ drop-down box, select ‘Cereals & Oilseeds’
  • In the ‘Topic’ drop-down box, select ‘Nutrient management’

Visit our research archive

Recent nutrient research articles

Lower nitrogen milling wheat PhD

Easy-Peasy: rapid soil phosphate test closer to market

Farming rules for water: new guidance on manure applications

High fertiliser costs: implications for milling wheat growers

Adjusting N rates and alternative fertiliser management options

Latest nutrient management guidance (RB209) update ‘on track’

Fertiliser recommendations revised on back of price spike

Results to nourish spring barley crops

Grain nutrient analysis and its role in management

Nutrient research in action

Our Strategic Cereal Farms put cutting-edge research and innovation into practice on commercial farms around the UK.

At Strategic Cereal Farm East, a trial aims to reduce nitrate leaching with cover crops.

Reducing nitrate leaching with cover crops