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Alfalfa cultivar response to phosphorus and potassium deficiency: elemental composition of the herbage

James, D.W., Hurst, C.J., Tindall, T.A.
Journal of plant nutrition 1995 v.18 no.11 pp. 2447-2464
Medicago sativa, phosphorus, potassium, nutrient deficiencies, cultivars, nutrition-genotype interaction, triple superphosphate, potassium chloride, mineral content, nutrient content, calcareous soils, application rate, chemical constituents of plants
While phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) use efficiencies in alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) are subject to genetic control, selection for these traits also affects the utilization of other nutrients. It is not clear whether other nutrients are as susceptible to genetic alterations directly or whether alteration of P and K uptake may simply alter the general synergisms and antagonisms among the elements in plants. Our objectives were to compare the P- and K-use efficiencies of five commercial alfalfa cultivars (CVs) growing on a low-P, low-K calcareous soil, and to evaluate the impact of P and K fertilization on the herbage concentrations of these and other elements. The CVs were selected for uniformity of disease resistance and other agronomic traits. Three levels each of P and K fertilizer were applied in factorial combination, with CV as the whole plot and fertilizer treatment as the split plot. Herbage samples, consisting of the top half of the shoot, were collected at the first cut in 1992 and 1993 and were analyzed by wet digestion and inductively coupled plasma emission spectrometry (ICP). There were appreciable amounts of aluminium (Al), iron (Fe), sulfur (S), and silicon (Si) in the alfalfa herbage but CV and soil treatment did not affect the concentrations of these elements. Plant breeding and selection for P-use efficiency seems to be feasible. There was a positive soil P influence on herbage concentrations of sodium (Na), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), and strontium (Sr) which was attributed to increased plant ATP. There was a negative effect of soil P on herbage K apparently due to the mutual antagonisms among K, Na, Ca, and Mg. There was significant variance among CVs for manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn) but not for boron (B) and copper (Cu). Soil P had a negative effect on concentrations of B, Cu, Mn, and Zn in the herbage. Soil K had a negative effect on herbage B, Cu, and Mn. Only Cu approached deficiency levels, which needs further evaluation for this calcareous soil.