Professor of Agronomy
Debbie's research focuses on crop physiology and its application to improved crop management. Current projects include:
- Understanding soil-plant interactions to improve sugar beet productivity
- Impact of minimum tillage on soil structure and crop production
- Impact of cover crops on soil structure
- Improving harvesting and processing efficiency of vining peas
Crop physiology; agronomy;
I lead a number of undergraduate and masters level modules;
Field Crops: a week long field course based on visits to growers and applied research facilities
Plant Physiology: from cell to crop
Principles of Crop Science
I also contribute to a number of other modules such as Statistics and Experimental Design for Bioscientists, Grassland Management and Contemporary Agricultural Systems.
My research interests fall within two main areas; crop physiology and sustainable agriculture. Current and recent research includes:
- Understanding soil-plant interactions to improve sugar beet productivity.
This five year programme, funded by the British Beet Research Organisation, is divided into three work packages:
1.Evaluating and mitigating limitations to water uptake: A range of techniques, including X-ray CT imaging of intact soil cores, will be used to identify limitations to water uptake by the sugar beet crop. Field experiments will then explore strategies to overcome the most important limitations to water uptake, thereby increasing water availability for crop growth and enhancing yield.
2.Identifying rooting traits for optimal nutrient uptake: This work package will evaluate the diversity in rooting traits in UK and European sugar beet germplasm and explore relationships between rooting traits and nutrient uptake. The aim is to develop a rapid rooting screen for nutrient uptake efficiency. Allied to this work, and informed by the rooting traits associated with improved nutrient uptake, will be field experiments to evaluate nutrient placement techniques.
3.Improving establishment and early growth: The third work package will investigate soil physical properties at drilling (e.g. aggregate size, bulk density, shear strength, moisture content) and their relationship with emergence rate and final plant population. Data collected from a field survey across a range of soil types, will be used to develop a model that uses soil physical properties, plus environmental information (e.g. soil texture, temperature etc.) to predict establishment. The model will be validated across soil types and seasons before being used to develop a tool that growers can use in-field, to predict establishment rate, based on seedbed quality. The tool will facilitate grower decision making regarding the required seed rate or whether to improve establishment by, for example, carrying out additional cultivations.
A long term research experiment has been set up at the University of Nottingham's Farm to investigate the impact of cultivation strategy and residue retention on soil physical properties crop growth and yield and greenhouse gas emissions.
In a separate project, we are investigating the effect of cover crops on soil structure and on the growth and yield of the subsequent crop. This work combines detailed experiments in the glasshouse with replicated field experiments and on-farm measurements
XIE, Q, FERNANDO, KMC, MAYES, S and SPARKES, DL, 2017. Identifying root architectural traits associated with yield and yield components in wheat Annals of Botany. 119(7), 1115-1129 TOWNSEND, T.J., SPARKES, D.L. and WILSON, P., 2016. Food and Bioenergy: Reviewing the Potential of Dual-Purpose Wheat Crops. Global Change Biology: Bioenergy.
QUAN XIE, SEAN MAYES and DEBBIE SPARKES, 2015. Carpel size, grain filling, and morphology determine individual grain weight in wheat Journal of Experimental Botany. 6715-6730