Get More Out of Your N Applications Using a Nitrogen Stabilizer

Holly Thrasher

Jun 04, 2020

If you’re planning a sidedress fertilizer application of nitrogen (N) for your crops, you may want to consider utilizing a nitrogen stabilizer to help get the most out of that application.

That’s because plant-usable forms of nitrogen are often lost through the processes of denitrification, leaching or volatilization, which means a portion of the nitrogen you put down in your fields won’t ever reach your crops.

In other words, you’re basically tossing a portion of your nitrogen budget to the wind. This loss of N can decrease crop quality and yields at the end of the season, and that ultimately impacts your bottom line.

What are nitrogen stabilizers and how do they work?

There are many nitrogen stabilizers that can be applied with each of these sources to slow the process of nitrogen converting to nitrate (NO3) for the plant’s use. 

It’s important to note that stabilizers alone won’t increase yield—they simply protect the usability of the N fertilizer that helps the plant reach its yield potential.

Nitrogen stabilizers can be divided into three primary categories: nitrification inhibitors, urease inhibitors, and slow-release coated fertilizers.

Nitrification Inhibitors 

Nitrification inhibitors slow the nitrifying bacteria that convert ammonium (NH4) to nitrate. While both forms are usable by the plant, nitrate is more likely to be lost to leaching and denitrification. This stabilizer will achieve their greatest benefit on wet or poorly drained soils.

Urease Inhibitors

Urease inhibitors are applied to urea and urea-containing fertilizers, such as UAN, and prevent it from converting to ammonia (NH3) gas, which is subsequently lost to the air. These are most effective for surface applications and in no-till scenarios, where N is more prone to volatilization. 

Slow-release Coated Fertilizers 

These are conventional fertilizers that have a water-insoluble coating of sulfur and/or polymers. The coating allows the fertilizer to provide a gradual supply of N to the plant. 

Selecting and using the right nitrogen stabilizer can lead to more efficient, optimized use of your applied N. And for farmers who might over-apply to compensate for N loss, that can translate to a lower overall spend from the fertilizer line item in your budget. 

Weather and other environmental conditions can impact any of the above options, so be mindful of your own unique context and/or consult an agronomist when selecting a nitrogen stabilizer for your farm and fields.

Looking to apply fertilizer on your operation?

Take care of your fertilizer needs through FBN Direct℠ and get them delivered straight to your farm—or schedule free pick-up at your local FBN Hub. Plus as an FBN member, you can chat with a member of our Agronomy team to get answers to questions about fertilizers and other measures you can take to promote crop health.

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Holly Thrasher

Jun 04, 2020