Cultivars have to be evaluated under different crop management systems across agro-ecosystems and years using multi-environment trials (MET) before releasing them to the market. Frequently, data collected in METs are arranged according to cultivar (G), management (M), location, (L) and year (Y) combinations in a four-way G x M x L x Y data table that is highly unbalanced for cultivars across locations and time. Therefore, we present the restricted maximum likelihood method (REML) for linear mixed models (LMM) with a factor analytic variance-covariance matrix for assessing cultivar adaptation to crop management systems and environments based on unbalanced datasets. Such a multi-environmental trial system has been in operation in Poland for winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) in the form of the Post-registration Variety Testing System (PVTS). This study aimed to illustrate the use of LMM in the analysis of unbalanced four-way G x M x L x Y data. LMM analysis provided adjusted means of grain yield for 51 winter wheat cultivars bred in different regions in Europe, tested across 18 trial locations and seven consecutive cropping seasons in two crop management intensities. The application of the four-way LMM with a factor analytic variance-covariance matrix is a complementary and effective tool for evaluating the unbalanced G x M x L x Y table. Cultivars tested had different adaptive responses to the Polish agro-ecosystems separately for each of the crop management intensities. Wide adaptation in both crop management systems was exhibited by cultivars Mulan and Jenga bred in Germany.
crop management; restricted maximum likelihood methods; unbalanced data; winter wheat