Effects of varied irrigation and zinc (Zn) fertilization (0, 7, 14, 21 kg Zn ha(-1) as ZnSO(4)7 . H2O) on grain yield and concentration and content of Zn were studied in two bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), two durum wheat (Triticum durum), two barley (Hordeum vulgare), two triticale (xTriticosecale Wittmark), one rye (Secale cereale), and one oat (Avena sativa) cultivars grown in a Zn-deficient soil (DTPA-extractable Zn: 0.09 mg kg(-1)) under rainfed and irrigated field conditions. Only minor or no yield reduction occurred in rye as a result of Zn deficiency. The highest reduction in plant growth and grain yield due to Zn deficiency was observed in durum wheats, followed by oat, barley, bread wheat and triticale. These decreases in yield due to Zn deficiency became more pronounced under rainfed conditions. Although highly significant differences in grain yield were found between treatments with and without Zn, no significant difference was obtained between the Zn doses applied (7-21 kg ha(-1)), indicating that 7 kg Zn ha(-1) would be sufficient to overcome Zn deficiency. Increasing doses of Zn application resulted in significant increases in concentration and content of Zn in shoot and grain. The sensitivity of various cereals to Zn deficiency was different and closely related to Zn content in the shoot but not to Zn amount per unit dry weight. Irrigation was effective in increasing both shoot Zn content and Zn efficiency of cultivars. The results demonstrate the existence of a large genotypic variation in Zn efficiency among and within cereals and suggest that plants become more sensitive to Zn deficiency under rainfed than irrigated conditions.