Split Nitrogen Application Improves Wheat Baking Quality by Influencing Protein Composition Rather Than Concentration
The use of late nitrogen (N) fertilization (N application at late growth stages of wheat, e.g., booting, heading or anthesis) to improve baking quality of wheat has been questioned. Although it increases protein concentration, the beneficial effect on baking quality (bread loaf volume) needs to be clearly understood. Two pot experiments were conducted aiming to evaluate whether late N is effective under controlled conditions and if these effects result from increased N rate or N splitting. Late N fertilizers were applied either as additional N or split from the basal N at late boot stage or heading in the form of nitrate-N or urea. Results showed that late N fertilization improved loaf volume of wheat flour by increasing grain protein concentration and altering its composition. Increasing N rate mainly enhanced grain protein quantitatively. However, N splitting changed grain protein composition by enhancing the percentages of gliadins and glutenins as well as certain high molecular weight glutenin subunits (HMW-GS), which led to an improved baking quality of wheat flour. The late N effects were greater when applied as nitrate-N than urea. The proportions of glutenin and x-type HMW-GS were more important than the overall protein concentration in determining baking quality. N splitting is more effective in improving wheat quality than the increase in the N rate by late N, which offers the potential to cut down N fertilization rates in wheat production systems.