Optimising sulphur management



(i) Optimum S rates for oilseed rape
Sulphur response field experiments were carried out at ten sites cropped with winter oilseed rape over four harvest years (2014 to 2017). Data from a further eight S response experiments carried out between 2011 and 2013 are included in the data set giving a total of 18 site years of data collected between 2011 and 2017. Ten of the eighteen S response experiments showed a yield response to S fertiliser of between 0.1 and 4.4 t/ha and economic optimum S rates at these sites varied between 30 and 79 kg SO3/ha. There was no relationship between the optimum S rate and yield at the optimum rate and therefore no evidence to suggest that higher yielding oilseed rape required higher fertiliser S rates. The optimum S rate was insensitive to typical changes in fertiliser and crop price.
Leaf tissue testing for malate: sulphate, S content and N:S ratio and seed analysis for S and N:S ratio were able to identify differences between some, but not all, of the S sufficient/deficient sites. All of the ten sites which showed a yield response to S were light or medium textured i.e. loamy sand, sandy loam and sandy clay loam soils. Soil texture and over-winter rainfall was a better predictor of S deficiency than soil analysis or tissue testing.

At the majority of sites there was no effect of S fertiliser on seed oil or protein content. Sulphur fertiliser increased glucosinolate concentrations at eight of the ten S deficient sites, but had no effect on glucosinolate concentrations at any of the eight S sufficient sites and glucosinolate concentrations were below the current limit of 20 µg/g at all sites.

We recommend updating the guidance for S application to oilseed rape to include soil texture and winter rainfall in assessing the risk of S deficiency and increasing the current S recommendations to 50-80 kg SO3/ha. The wording in the AHDB Sulphur information sheet should be revised to highlight potential uncertainly in diagnosing S deficiency based on visual symptoms and tissue analysis.

(ii) Sulphur supply from organic materials
At five of the S response field experiments additional organic material treatments were included to quantify the S supply from organic materials. Four of these sites showed a yield response to S fertiliser and a yield increase from the organic material treatments which indicates that organic materials supply crop available S that can contribute towards crop S fertiliser requirement. Based on the results of this project, we recommend updating the guidance on S availability from organic materials to increase the S use efficiency from autumn applications of organic materials (from 5-10% to 15% for livestock manures and from 10-20% to 25% for biosolids) to oilseed rape and grassland. This change reflects the S uptake by these crops in the period between application and the start of over-winter drainage (and subsequent reduction in S leaching losses). We also recommend increasing the S use efficiency figures for spring applied slurry (from 35% to 45%) and biosolids (from 20% to 35%) for all crops.

This work has produced a robust evidence base to support S recommendations to oilseed rape and led to a better understanding of the crop available S supply from organic materials.

Beef & Lamb,Cereals & Oilseeds
Project code:
31 July 2013 - 29 September 2016
AHDB Beef & Lamb, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds
Project leader:


21140010 Final Report Jul 2018

About this project

The Problem:

Currently the Fertiliser Manual (RB209) does not have information about the amount of sulphur that is available to crop from manures, as only the total levels are listed.  HGCA has previously does some work on sulphur availability from manures for cereals.  Both oilseed rape and grass are very responsive to sulphur application and have significant growth in the autumn, so the calculated availability for these crops may differ.  EBLEX and DairyCo are particularly interested in work package 3.


Aims and Objectives:

This project aims to develop improved guidance to farmers on sulphur (S) management through additional S rate response field experiments and by quantifying the S supply from applications of organic materials.



Work package 1. Determine optimum S rates from 4 additional field experiments on OSR

Work package 2. Quantify the S supply from organic materials to OSR

Work package 3. Characterise manure total and extractable S content