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Combating food shortages through fertilizer management under improved planting practice

Ahmad Khan1, Rashid Zaman1, Mohammad Arif1 and Mohammad Tariq Jan1

1 Department of Agronomy, NWFP Agricultural University Peshawar, Pakistan,


In much of the developing world, countries are facing shortages of food and feed. Pakistan faces the same destiny. Our population is growing at an alarming rate since its establishment. In the last two decades human population growth rate reduced and was 1.95% during 2008-09, but is still too high to for the existing grains production. Wheat is a staple food of the nation and is grown on about 80% of the cropped area. Its production has increased from 14.19 in 1990 to 21.8 million tons in 2009 but is still insufficient for the nation, and wheat was imported. Improving production through better agronomic management continues throughout the country. To contribute to this improvement research was conducted at the Research Farm of NWFP Agricultural University, Peshawar, Pakistan during 2009, using four level of urea nitrogen (N) i.e. 0, 60, 120 and 180 kg/ha under drill sowing (improved) vs. broadcast (farmer practice) methods of sowing. The improved sowing method receiving 120 kg N/ha produced 32% more grain yield and led to improvements in yield components over the farmer practice using the same dose of N. However, the farmer practice increased straw production at 180 kg N/ha. It was concluded from the experiment that drill sowing improve grain yield with 7.1 value cost ratio (VCR) compared to broadcast method 6.9.Higher rates of N improved forage production but with a lower VCR than low N levels.

Key Words

Sowing method, urea levels, wheat production, agronomic management


Wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) is the staple food of the country and is consumed in greater quantity than any other food items. During 2008-09, its production was less than consumption (GOP 2009). Wheat yield is influenced by management of the previous crop but is highly dependent on the current year’s management (Wiatrak et al. 2006). The major problems regarding low productivity could be the traditional method of sowing (Badar and Din 2005), imbalanced use of nutrients (Sharma et al. 2003) and other management practices. Typically farmers use traditional methods of wheat growing, which are not only less productive but also laborious and time consuming. Modern sowing methods of wheat include mechanical sowing in contrast to broadcasting seed. Asharfi et al. (2009) reported that sowing in rows is better than broadcast method of sowing. Grain yield and yielding component were improved by sowing wheat in line compared to broadcast (Somroo et al. 2009). In contrast, Abass et al. (2009) recommended broadcast method of sowing in sandy arid areas.

Concerns about the sustainability of yield and soil fertility is still attracting the scientist to focus on sowing methods and has also led to renewed interest in nutrient management. According to Khan et al. (2005) crops that received optimum nitrogen (N) nutrition resulted in improved wheat productivity and farmer livelihood by improving individual plant performance as well as yield and yield components (Khan et al. 2009). However, the application of fertilizer should be limited due to scarce resources and environmental concerns (Sepaskhah et al. 2006). The aim of this study was to determine how sowing methods (i.e. broadcast and drill) respond to different levels of urea N application.


A field experiment was carried out at the Agricultural Research Farm of NWFP Agricultural University, Peshawar, Pakistan, (17 N, 35 W) during 2008-09. The soil of the experimental farm is a silt clay loam and mean annual rainfall is about 360 mm. The experimental soil was deficient in mineral N and organic matter. The experiment was carried out in randomized complete block design, replicated three times. The sowing method (drill vs. broadcast) was allotted to main plots, and urea N level (0, 60, 120,180 kg N ha-1) to subplots. Urea (46% N) was applied in a split application, half at sowing and the other half 21 days later, just after the first irrigation. Subplots with 10 rows, 30cm apart and 5 metres long were maintained in the experimental field. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) and standard errors of means were used for hypothesis testing. The statistical software GenStat release 7.22 DE (GenStat 2009) was used for analysis of all data.

Plant height was recorded by measuring the length of ten randomly selected plants. Grains per spike were recorded by counting the grains in five randomly selected spikes, after threshing manually. At harvest, mature tillers in two central rows were counted, and then harvested and dried to record tillers/m2, grain yield, and thousand grain weight. The cost of production, gross revenue, and value cost ratio (VCR) were calculated according to the procedure outlined by Boehlje and Eidman (1984).

Results and discussion

Table 1. Plant stature, plant stand, yield components and biological yield of wheat in response to sowing method and urea nitrogen application.


plant height (cm)

Tillers /m2

Grains /spike

1000 grains weight (g)

Biological yield (kg/ha)

Value cost ratio (Rs. /ha)

Sowing methods
















Standard Error of means







Urea N kg/ha






























Standard Error of means







* Significant at P≤ 0.05; ** Significant at P ≤ 0.01

Results indicated that sowing method had no significant effects on plant height, however taller plants were observed when plants received 120 kg N/ha. This trend of increased tallness could be associated with optimum supply of nutrients (Khan et al. 2005). Plant stand in term of tillers/m2 at harvest was not affected by sowing method, whereas urea N application had improved the final crop stand at harvest. Increasing the application rate of urea led to increased tillers/m2 at harvest. This increasing trend could be associated with optimum nutrient availability (Soomro et al. 2009). Other yield components, i.e. grains/spike and thousand grain weight, were significantly affected by both sowing methods and N application. Improved sowing method increased grains/spike and also resulted in heavier grains than the farmer sowing method. The probable reason could be the sufficient row to row distance which allowed the plants to grow well compared to broadcast method of sowing (Arif et al. 2001). A linear increase in grains/spike and thousand grain weight was observed with increasing urea N application up to 120 kg/ha, however, with further increase no improvements were observed. The possible reasons for improved grains/spike and grain weight could be associated with optimum nutrient supply to the plants (Soomro et al. 2009). Biological yield was not affected by sowing methods but increased linearly with increasing N rates. The effect of N application was to increase the leafiness and vegetative growth of the plants (Chaudhry and Jamil 1998).

Grain yield data are presented in Figure 1. The drill method had higher grain yield than the broadcast method at all levels of N application. The improved grain yield using the drill method might be due to lower N losses (Arif et al. 2001), optimum plant geometry (Soomro et al. 2009) and lower weed density (Ashrafi et al. 2009). The drill sowing provides equal opportunity to all plants for nutrients and also improves water use efficiency and light use efficiency, which might have improved the grain yield. Grain yield increased with increasing N rates from control to 120 kg N/ha, in both improved as well as broad cast methods of sowing, and thereafter it decreased. The higher N (180 kg N/ha) delayed the reproductive stage, and thereby reduced the grain filling duration, which could have decreased the grain yield. Economic analysis revealed that broadcast method have lower VCR than line sowing and increasing N rates led to decreased VCR. The decreased VCR due to increased N might be associated with the higher cost of commercial fertilizer.

Figure 1. Grain yield of wheat in response to sowing method and N. Vertical bars are standard error of mean.


It was concluded from the experiment that drill sowing with 120 kgN/ha led to the highest yield and improved other yield components, whereas the broadcast method of sowing increased forage production (biological yield) when higher amount of N was applied to the plants. VCR was highest (7.1) for drill sowing and low N rates.


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