Wheat is an important source of minerals such as iron, zinc, copper and magnesium in the UK diet. The dietary intake of these nutrients has fallen in recent years because of a combination of reduced energy requirements associated with sedentary lifestyles and changes in dietary patterns associated with lower micronutrient density in the diet.Recent publications using data from food composition tables indicate a downward trend in the mineral content of foods and it has been suggested that intensive farming practices may result in soil depletion of minerals.
The aim of our study was to evaluate changes in the mineral concentration of wheat using a robust approach to establish whether trends are due to plant factors (e.g. cultivar, yield) or changes in soil nutrient concentration.
The mineral concentration of archived wheat grain and soil samples from the Broadbalk Wheat Experiment (established in 1843 at Rothamsted, UK) was determined and trends over time examined in relation to cultivar, yield, and harvest index.
The concentrations of zinc, iron, copper and magnesium remained stable between 1845 and the mid 1960s, but since then have decreased significantly, which coincided with the introduction of semi-dwarf, high-yielding cultivars. In comparison, the concentrations in soil have either increased or remained stable. Similarly decreasing trends were observed in different treatments receiving no fertilizers, inorganic fertilizers or organic manure.
Multiple regression analysis showed that both increasing yield and harvest index were highly significant factors that explained the downward trend in grain mineral concentration.