Incorporating foliar zinc (Zn) spray into existing pesticide application is considered highly cost-effective to biofortify wheat (Triticum aestivum
) with Zn. However, the effectiveness of this combined approach in terms of Zn enrichment and bioavailability in grain and its milling fractions is not well examined. Two-year field experiments were conducted in 2017 and 2018 with three sets of foliar applications (nil Zn as control, foliar Zn alone, and foliar Zn plus pesticides) at the anthesis, milk stage, or both. Compared to the control, grain yield was not affected by foliar Zn application alone or combined with pesticides, while the Zn concentrations and bioavailability substantially increased in the whole-grain, bran, and flour irrespective of spray timing. Yield losses by 28%–39% (2018 vs. 2017) led to 7%–18% and 18%–38% increase of Zn density in grain and flour, respectively. Further, such negative responses were uncoupled by foliar spray of Zn or Zn plus pesticides, and absent from the control plants. Nonetheless, grain Zn biofortification was achieved in both low- and high-yield plants with either Zn spray alone or combined with pesticides. Together with the enhanced Zn bioavailability in grain, bran, and flour, the effectiveness of this combined strategy is validated to biofortify wheat with Zn.
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