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Soil, nutrient, and water management

Foliar nutrition of rice to enhance micronutrient


concentration in grains
P. Stalin, Thejas Das, D. Muthumanickam, T. Chitdeshwari, and V. Velu
Department of Soil Science and Agricultural Chemistry, Tamil Nadu Agricultural
University, Coimbatore 641003, Tamil Nadu, India
E-mail: pstmin@yahoo.co.in

Key words: foliar spray, critical growth period, micronutrient content in rice

Rice, the staple food crop for more than half of the world’s population, supplies
adequate energy in the form of calories and is a good source of thiamine,
riboflavin, and niacin (FAO 2003). But it lacks other critical vitamins such as
vitamin A, minerals such as iron and zinc, and other micronutrients/amino acids
that are essential to human health. Increasing the micronutrient density in rice
can help alleviate the global problem of micronutrient malnutrition, especially
among urban and rural poor people who have little access to enriched food and
diversified diets. Among the strategies considered, agricultural approaches (e.g.,
plant breeding, fertilizer application) seem to be the most viable and sustainable
solution (Welch and Graham 2004, White and Broadley 2005). Application of
micronutrient-enriched fertilizers (amount, timing, placement, and form) can be
a short-term and complementary strategy to improve the micronutrient density
of food crops. In view of this, the present study was undertaken.
A field experiment was conducted at the Agricultural Research Station in
Bhavanisagar, which is situated in the western zone of Tamil Nadu (11°26′N,
77°8′E; 256 m above mean sea level). The soil was sandy loam, red, and
noncalcareous (Irugur, Typic Haplustalf). It was found deficient in DTPA Zn
(1.03 mg kg–1) but sufficient in all other micronutrients (Lindsay and Norwell
1978). The experiment used medium-duration rice variety ADT39 (120–125 d),
which was planted during the wet season (October 2008 to January 2009) under a
rice-rice cropping system. There were 13 treatments in a randomized block
design with three replications. These included a control (water spray), foliar
application of micronutrients at different concentrations during panicle initiation
(PI) and at flowering (FF) (T2–T5), foliar application of the same concentration of
micronutrients at different growth stages (active tillering [AT], PI, and FF and
their combination), and soil application of micronutrients (T11–T13) (Table 1).

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Table 1. Various treatments used to assess the effects of micronutrient application


on yield and micronutrient content of rice grains.
Treatment Application Spray time
1 Water spray Panicle initiation
2 0.10% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric + flowering
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate
3 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.025% boric
acid + 0.025% sodium molybdate
4 0.50% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4
5 0.50% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.050% boric
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate
6 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric Active tillering
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate
7 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric Active tillering +
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate panicle
initiation
8 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric Active tillering +
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate panicle
initiation +
flowering
9 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric Panicle initiation
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate + flowering
10 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, and MnSO4 + 0.010% boric Flowering
acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate
11 TNAU micronutrient mixture (12.5 kg ha–1) Soil application
12 State Department micronutrient mixture (12.5 kg ha–1) (basal)
13 ZnSO4 (25 kg ha–1)

The recommended fertilizer dose of 150:50:50 kg N, P2O5, and K2O ha–1 (in the
form of urea, single superphosphate, and muriate of potash) was applied
uniformly to all plots. Full doses of P and K were applied basally and N was
given in four equal splits (basal, AT, PI, and FF). At harvest, grain and straw
yields (adjusted to 14% moisture content) were recorded in each plot. Plant
samples were collected and micronutrient content was estimated using standard
procedures. Micronutrient content in processed grain was likewise measured.
Table 2 shows that foliar application of 0.5% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4,
MnSO4 + 0.05% boric acid + 0.010% sodium molybdate at PI and FF (T5) and
0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, MnSO4 + 0.010% boric acid + 0.010% sodium
molybdate at AT + PI + FF (T8) increased Zn, Cu, Fe, Mn, and B content in whole
grain. This may be due to the direct application of micronutrients at critical
growth stages, which helped increase the absorption in the grain during ripening
(Srivastava et al 1992, Swamy et al 1990, Sheudzhen 1991, Kalyan Singh et al
2003, Muralidharan and Jose 1995). It is worth noting that both T5 and T8

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recorded significantly higher Zn content in the grain (28.4 and 28.9 mg kg–1,
respectively), an increase of 47% and 50% over that of the control. T5 and T8 also
had significantly higher Fe content in the grain (239 and 213 mg kg–1,
respectively; 47% and 31% of that of the control). This finding is of great
significance in terms of alleviating micronutrient malnutrition. Application of the
TNAU micronutrient mixture (T11) enhanced Cu, Fe, Mn, and B content in the
grain.
Micronutrient content (Table 2) was higher in brown rice (hull removed
from rough rice) than in milled rice (bran and hull layers removed by milling).
Parboiled rice (rough rice soaked in water and exposed to steam, dried, and the
husk removed) had more micronutrients than milled rice, indicating a higher
retention of micronutrients in parboiled rice, which may be attributed to the
solubilization and migration to the center of the grain and their setting during
the starch gelatinization process (Heinemann et al 2005). In T5, micronutrient
content was maximum in brown rice, parboiled rice, and milled rice, maybe
because of the higher micronutrient content in rough rice in that particular
treatment.

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Table 2. Effect of micronutrient application on micronutrient content (mg kg–1) of whole grain and processed rice.
Treatmenta Whole grain with husk Brown rice Milled rice Parboiled rice
Zn Cu Fe Mn B Zn Cu Fe Mn B Zn Cu Fe Mn B Zn Cu Fe Mn B
T1 19.3 5.3 162 32 4.8 27.1 5.8 132.0 54.3 7.4 22.2 5.3 50.6 25.9 6.8 31.2 10.9 131.7 58.1 7.9
T2 22.2 6.4 176 39 5.6 30.4 6.4 136.0 63.9 7.6 24.6 5.7 51.6 30.1 7.0 36.3 11.5 139.3 70.6 8.1
T3 24.5 7.5 200 44 6.3 33.2 6.7 142.0 70.1 7.7 27.8 5.7 53.0 33.3 7.2 38.9 11.6 146.1 74.3 8.3
T4 26.2 8.6 222 47 6.0 35.1 6.8 149.0 72.2 7.4 28.9 5.8 53.2 33.9 6.8 39.0 11.6 149.4 74.7 8.0
T5 28.4 9.0 239 50 7.0 36.5 7.6 161.0 72.8 8.9 30.1 6.5 60.3 35.6 8.3 41.1 13.3 158.0 76.9 9.4
T6 21.0 6.2 175 38 5.7 27.4 6.5 135.0 56.2 7.5 22.2 5.5 51.8 26.7 6.9 31.5 11.0 134.0 70.3 8.0
T7 25.0 7.1 184 40 6.1 30.5 6.5 133.0 65.2 7.6 24.3 5.6 52.0 28.8 7.0 35.4 11.4 137.0 70.7 8.1
T8 28.9 8.6 213 45 6.8 34.0 7.5 157.0 71.0 7.8 29.6 6.3 59.3 34.3 7.2 40.2 11.7 156.4 76.9 8.3
T9 24.2 7.2 197 42 6.2 32.6 6.6 140.0 67.9 7.6 26.9 5.7 52.8 32.2 7.0 37.3 11.6 145.3 72.5 8.2
T10 22.3 7.1 187 39 6.2 31.5 6.5 137.0 67.3 7.3 26.6 5.6 52.2 30.2 6.7 36.3 11.4 140.5 71.7 7.8
T11 21.7 6.6 176 37 5.2 29.1 6.5 135.0 66.1 7.5 25.1 5.6 52.0 28.2 6.9 34.0 11.5 133.7 65.3 8.0
T12 20.3 6.5 173 36 5.2 29.3 6.4 134.0 65.3 7.5 26.2 5.5 51.6 28.0 6.9 33.8 11.4 132.7 64.2 8.0
T13 23.0 6.0 165 34 5.1 29.5 6.3 134.0 56.3 7.4 28.4 5.5 50.5 28.0 6.8 34.0 11.4 132.7 63.2 8.0
CD (0.05) 3.5 1.9 16 5 0.2 5.4 0.8 18.7 9.6 0.1 3.5 0.6 5.4 3.3 0.3 3.9 1.1 17.7 6.9 0.3
aSee text for details of the treatments.

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T8 recorded the significantly highest yield (6,228 kg ha–1), the increase being
12.7% above that of the control (see figure). Basal application of ZnSO4 (25 kg ha–1)
(T13) and 0.25% of CuSO4, ZnSO4, FeSO4, MnSO4 + 0.010% boric acid + 0.010%
sodium molybdate at AT + PI (T7) also increased grain yield to 6,137 and 6,005 kg
ha–1, respectively, which is on a par with T8. Further, the supply of different
micronutrients such as Zn, Cu, Fe, Mn, and B through foliar spraying resulted in
better absorption of these nutrients, thereby helping in the photosynthetic activities
and effective translocation to storage organs. These contributed to the increased yield
(Datta and Dhiman 2001). Straw yield showed a similar response to micronutrient
application (see figure).

Effect of micronutrients on rice grain yield

We can conclude that there is ample scope to enhance the concentration of


micronutrients, especially Zn and Fe, in rice grains through foliar application of
micronutrients at critical growth stages (T5 and T8), along with the recommended
NPK dose. Yield loss in this case is minimal. Enhancing the micronutrient content in
seeds will not only prevent malnutrition problems but will also increase the
productivity of micronutrient-poor soils. T5 also increased Zn, Cu, Mn, Fe, and B
concentrations in processed grain (brown rice, parboiled rice, and milled rice). Since
rice is mostly consumed in the form of milled rice, there is a need to create a demand
for brown rice, parboiled rice, and other rice products that have superior nutritional
value.

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Acknowledgment
The financial support received from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, New Delhi, under
the All-India Coordinated Scheme on Micro and Secondary Nutrients and Pollutant Elements in Soils
and Plants is gratefully acknowledged.

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