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Are urea fertilizer additives worth the cost for forages?

published: April 7th 2022
by: Mary Hightower
source: University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture

LITTLE ROCK — The record high costs of fertilizer are prompting hay and forage growers to look at all their options, including whether to use urea or ammonium nitrate and whether a urea additive will help.

“Urea is becoming the dominant nitrogen fertilizer because of increased regulations and higher costs associated with ammonium nitrate,” said John Jennings, professor and extension forage specialist, for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “However, the decision of whether urea is the best nitrogen choice is not without question.”


Jennings said that in spring when soil temperatures are cool, urea fertilizer will give the same forage yield response as ammonium nitrate when applied at the same rate of nitrogen per acre.

“The myth persists that nitrogen from urea will be lost from volatilization when applied during summer,” he said. “Past

and recent forage fertility research has shown that urea can be as effective as ammonium nitrate as a nitrogen source for bermudagrass when applied at the same nitrogen rates.”

Jennings said if urea is incorporated into the soil by rainfall within several days after application, nitrogen losses are minimal.

In recent years, additives such as NBPT — the active ingredient in nitrogen stabilizer Agrotain — has been added to urea fertilizer to reduce nitrogen losses by inhibiting the action of the enzyme urease in soil. Urease causes volatilization of ammonia from urea fertilizer. NBPT has been shown to effectively reduce nitrogen losses from urea in row crop fields.

“However, several research studies in Arkansas have shown that NBPT added to urea fertilizer did not increase forage dry matter of bermudagrass compared to urea alone,” Jennings said. “Thus, the added cost of NBPT may not be necessary when using urea for forages. Producers should consider all information when making forage fertilization decisions.”

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