Tef (Eragrostis tef
(Zucc.) Trotter) is a panicle-bearing cereal crop plant, originating from and grown mainly in Ethiopia. Tef yields highly nutritious gluten-free grain as well as high-quality forage, therefore, interest is rising regarding tef cultivation for grain and forage outside Ethiopia. Lodging is a major factor limiting tef quality and yield, with losses estimated at 30%–35% and presumably higher under mechanical harvest. Studies in other cereal crops suggested that lowering plant density would lead to sturdier plants less prone to lodging. In this work, we reported on the effects of sowing rate on lodging, lodging-related traits, and productivity of tef under irrigated conditions. Four tef genotypes were grown under irrigation across two years at three sowing rates: low (3 kg/ha), medium (6 kg/ha), and high (common, 9 kg/ha). Grain yield and biomass did not differ significantly among sowing rates. The visually assessed lodging index (LI) increased as the season progressed, with the lowest values recorded under low sowing density. A significant difference in LI values among the tested genotypes suggested potential for crop improvement. Aerial RGB images of the field taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle twice during the second season produced a high-resolution crop surface model, which was used to assess lodging. Aerial-based LI values were significantly correlated with the ground-based ones and exhibited better capacity to identify minor differences in lodging. Among the morphological traits assessed, crown diameter, crown root number, and crown root diameter were significantly affected by sowing rate and genotype and were correlated with LI values. In summary, this study demonstrated for the first time the feasibility of tef production under irrigated Mediterranean conditions and the potential of a reduced sowing rate as a remedy for lodging.
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