Components of the fertiliser nitrogen balance for wheat production on duplex soils Academic Article uri icon


  • In this paper, we review literature on the fate of fertiliser nitrogen (N) applied to duplex soils in wheat-growing regions of southern Australia, and discuss the contribution of specific N transformations to N loss. Duplex soils are characterised by the presence of soil material, within the rooting depth of crops, that possess hydraulic conductivities that are lower than those of overlying material. Denitrification and the transport of nitrate below rooting depth of crops are thought to be the chief causes of loss of fertiliser N and to contribute to poor grain yields. Ammonia volatilisation could contribute also to N loss. The fate of fertiliser N commonly applied to wheat in southern Australia has largely been evaluated using budgeting procedures using l5N, a stable isotope of N. Results from studies in south-eastem Australia, using red-brown earths, indicate that between 10 and 40% of applied 15N can be lost irrespective of time of application to wheat. Denitrification is believed to be the chief cause of loss of l5N. Similar studies on yellow duplex soils in Western Australia have shown fertiliser N loss to range from 70% to no loss of the l5N applied. The exact cause of N loss in Western Australian studies is unclear. There was circumstantial evidence for ammonia loss from surface-applied urea, and evidence of leaching of nitrates from this and other ammoniumbased fertilisers. The role of denitrification has not been clarified in Western Australian studies. In the majority of studies, recovery of 15N in aboveground biomass exceeded 40% of that applied. In addition, between 17 and 48% of applied 15N, of which 10-15% may be in root material, has been recovered in the soil organic matter pool. The predominance of the denitrification process in south-eastern Australian soils, and the inability to improve the efficiency of utilisation of 15N by delaying the time of application to wheat underscores the importance of controlling the nitrification process using inhibitors. Management options for Western Australian soils are less clear. Some agronomic experiments have demonstrated the advantage of delaying the application of fertiliser N to wheat to improve the efficiency of its utilisation. There is also evidence which suggests that N should be applied early in the growth cycle to promote tiller development and thereby increase the potential for grain yield.

published proceedings

  • Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture

author list (cited authors)

  • Fillery, I. R., & McInnes, K. J.

citation count

  • 50

complete list of authors

  • Fillery, IR||McInnes, KJ

publication date

  • November 1992