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Field Experiments in Crop Physiology

Kathy Schneebeli5640 points 
Contributors :Kathy Schneebeli5640 points 

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Protocols for experimental plot sampling, handling and processing of cereal experiments

Standardised methods for use in large agronomic, physiological and genetic field studies

Author Affiliations

G.J. Rebetzkeaf, A. van Herwaardenb, B. Biddulphc, C. Moellerd, R. Richardsa, A. Ratteya, K. Chenue

aCSIRO Plant Industry, PO Box 1600, Canberra ACT 2601
bCSIRO Plant Industry, QBP, Brisbane QLD 4067
cDAFWA, Locked Bag 4, Bentley Delivery Centre WA 6983
dUni. Sydney, 1 Central Ave, Eveleigh NSW 2015
eQAAFI, PO Box 102, Toowoomba Qld 4350
fcorresponding author (

Lower level sections
Download complete manual: Protocols for cereal field experiments_Nov2012.pdf


Before the experiment
Importance of good site characterisation(external link)
Plot type and size(external link)
Preschedules - the plan for the experiment(external link)

Diary (experiment details from before sowing onward)(external link)
Which plant measurement? When? For what?(external link)
Climatic measurements(external link)
Plant establishment counts (Zadok DC12-13)(external link)
Ground cover assessments (DC12+)(external link)
Canopy light interception assessment (DC20+)(external link)
Leaf area/biomass at five-leaf stage (DC15) to start of stem elongation (DC31)(external link)
Assessing plant and crop development (DC29+)(external link)
Sample preparation for Transpiration Efficiency using Carbon Isotope Discrimination (DC30-32)(external link)
Leaf and root/crown disease scoring (DC12 - maturity)(external link)
Tips for managing fungal diseases in the field(external link)
Measuring crop canopy temperature (DC37+)(external link)
Anthesis (flowering) (DC65) – Sampling for biomass and WSC/N determination(external link)
Anthesis (flowering) (DC65) – Observation of other leaf attributes(external link)
Extreme temperature damage (DC60+)(external link)
Maturity height, lodging scores, and shattering score (DC92+)(external link)
Maturity (DC92+) harvest index, biomass and spike number samples - Quadrat cut and sub-sampling(external link)
Grain size, hectolitre weight and screenings determination (DC93+)(external link)
Maturity machine harvest samples (DC93+)(external link)

Appendix 1: Zadok/decimal code table of growth stages(external link)
Appendix 2: Zadok/decimal code illustrations(external link)
Appendix 3: Soil water measurements(external link)
Appendix 4: Soil nutrition(external link)


Improving crop productivity is a priority for securing food security throughout the world. Ongoing research requires continual assessment and validation in field experiments representative of the target environments in which improved varieties or management protocols are aimed at delivery.

Why is there a need for this manual?
Field experiments are typically undertaken under conditions where some, but not all variables, can be controlled. These sometimes represent a particular stress (eg drought, nutrient or temperature), conditions typical of the growing region, or very favourable conditions where the aim is to understand physiological and agronomic factors contributing to yield potential. Similarly, assessment of genotypes under a controlled stress requires an understanding and reporting of factors contributing to their differential performance in response to stress. If some of the observed differences in yield relate to differences in flowering, or greater leaf area development then the cataloguing of such variation must be undertaken.

Measuring and reporting of this variation can be varied. This makes interpretation across multiple experiments difficult as one researcher may view and undertake sampling differently to another. It is critical that there is consistency in how measurements are undertaken and reported. Hence, standardising measures and phenotyping among workers will provide data (and a growing database!) that is robust, reliable and repeatable. This will lead to more cost-efficient research where high quality data can be re-used to test new hypotheses and explore larger datasets possibly collected across various projects.

This manual reflects our thoughts on the basic set of critical measurements needed to characterise line performance in an environment. Both measurements and their methodology are organised according to timing within the experiment/crop cycle using the cereal development score ('DC' for Decimal Code - Appendix 1(external link) and Appendix 2(external link)). We strongly advise that plots typically contain two outer rows (‘edge’ or ‘border’) and multiple inner rows to minimise any inter-plot competition effect, e.g. edge effects due to shading, nutrients, water availability, or compaction. As abiotic stresses (water, temperature) are often a focus of research, plots should be managed with the aim of minimising constraints afforded by inadequate nutrition and incidence of pests (weeds, insects and diseases). We believe that effective phenotyping should require a set of core measurements to be taken on all lines in an experiment. These measurements need to be simple, reliable and repeatable, and potentially allow screening of large amounts of lines across environments.

Figure 1. Irrigated plots in a large breeding experiment.

Other resources

Notes and troubleshooting tips

Literature references

Health, safety & hazardous waste disposal considerations


Contributors to this page: Kathy Schneebeli5640 points  , Admin26202 points  and Admin36802 points  .
Page last modified on Sunday 13 of January, 2013 12:12:16 EST by Kathy Schneebeli5640 points . (Version 41)