Vegetative growth and development of irrigated forage turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapa)
Field and greenhouse experiments were conducted to identify visual markers and predictors of changes in the vegetative growth rate of forage turnip (Brassica rapa var. rapa) as a potential tool to improve the timing of inputs of N and irrigation to periods of maximum demand. The onset of root expansion, which was associated with a colour change and the death of cotyledons, was identified as a critical marker for the beginning of the rapid growth of the crop and the accumulation of starch in the storage root but indicators of subsequent changes in vegetative growth rate were not identifiable. The results suggested that management inputs can be more readily targeted to the beginning of the exponential growth phase but targeting of later vegetative growth stages will remain arbitrary. The vegetative growth and development of the crop was also studied to elucidate the process of leaf emergence and senescence (turnover) as they affected both leaf and root yield. The sequential senescence of leaves, which began immediately after cotyledon death, and translocation of carbohydrate to the storage root, coupled with high leaf area index (LAI), probably account for the high growth rates of 220 kg ha−1 day−1 maintained for periods of 10 weeks after the onset of root expansion. High yields can be expected if high LAI is maintained by ensuring that leaf emergence rates are not limited by nutrient or water deficiencies and leaves are protected from insect pests. Forage turnip is particularly robust because new leaf continues to emerge as older and damaged leaves senesce and carbohydrate is stored as starch in the storage root.