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    Putting science into practice: how our students' final year research tests theories practically

    30 April 2024

    Our student research projects not only test our students’ knowledge – they also have practical applications.

    Final year BSc (Hons) Agriculture student Annis Cousins’ Honoours Research Project (HRP) involved applying late nitrogen - in the form of foliar urea – to see its effect on the increase of grain protein content in milling wheat.

    Annis chose her project for both economic and environmental reasons – as well as the chance to put science into practice, as she explains in this guest blog.


    With previous experience on arable farms and elsewhere in the crops sector, I was keen to look at a research project within this area, specifically around crop nutrition and how crops respond to the inputs we apply, as this would encompass my interest in both the technical and scientific aspects of crop production.

    With the volatility in the fertiliser market and ever tightening margins, there is an economic need to justify inputs and ensure there is an added return. At the same time, there is a need to optimise inputs from an environmental angle; to improve efficiency and reduce environmental impact.

    The application of late nitrogen to increase grain protein to milling wheat is a contentious topic due to the increased cost of nitrogen and the cost benefit of such applications. Furthermore, the environmental impact of these additional applications is also of concern.

    The benefit of applying what is typically an extra 40kg N/ha at the milky ripe stage has for some time been questionable in terms of the number of crops that actually benefit from it – ie: how efficient/wasteful are these applications?

    The rate of extra nitrogen to boost grain protein, above the rate required for yield, has been decreasing, but more recent work by the AHDB has indicated that higher additional N applied at GS 73 may in fact be needed to consistently achieve grain protein specifications for milling.

    The purpose of my Honours Research Project (HRP) is to compare the effect of different timings and different rates of foliar urea applications to winter wheat, to see what impact if any there is on grain protein content.

    I am testing five different rates of additional nitrogen (0, 20, 40, 60 and 80 kg N/ha) each rate of nitrogen applied at two different timings (growth stage 37 and growth stage 73), giving 10 treatments in a factorial design.

    The experiment is being carried out in the glasshouse using pots of Skyfall winter wheat grown in field soil with the treatments arranged in a randomised block design, with six replicates of each treatment. All pots have been treated with the same base rate of nitrogen for yield followed by the specific foliar urea treatment.

    Plants will be taken through to full maturity and I will then analyse the grain in the laboratory to determine grain protein content of each treatment and analyse the results.

    I have had to develop a range of practical skills to undertake my HRP, from growing the wheat in the glasshouse to analysing the grain in the lab. The data analysis involves statistical analysis of the data using knowledge developed from my Research Methods module in year two.

    I have found that I needed to adapt my knowledge of crop production in the field to the very different conditions found in the glasshouse, not least how quickly the plants develop - the seeds were sown at the end of November and were ready for harvest at the end of March.  

    Throughout my time at university, I have thoroughly enjoyed the practical elements of the course and my HRP has enabled me to put the science into practice.

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