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To use or not to use a nitrogen stabilizer – and which one?

Read Time: 8 minutes

By Janina Currah October 24, 2018

A simplified look at nitrogen stabilizers

If you’ve applied nitrogen to your fields, you’ve likely also wondered how much actually remains available to your crops. Research from Koch shows you can lose 2-5 lb/acre of N to denitrification in warm, saturated soils and you can see as much as 40% ammonia volatilization losses when urea or UAN is inadequately incorporated.

It’s been my experience that nitrogen stabilizers are worth the investment if you focus on your specific needs and look at these products as a type of insurance policy.

I’ve spoken with a lot of customers about using N stabilizers when they apply fertilizer, and I’ve noticed that we tend to lose people when we start to get too technical. It’s important to understand the science, but we also need to avoid analysis paralysis. Should you insure your N fertilizer investment, and what is the best product to do it?

To help with that, I’ve created a matrix to help simplify the decision.

First, a quick look at the types of N losses stabilizer products are meant to address. Many tonnes of N are applied in western Canada each year and many are lost via three processes:

  1. Dentrification – Occurs when N applied to soil is broken down by bacteria and gases off under saturated/wet conditions.
  2. Leaching – The soil receives excess moisture and N runs off or through the soil profile.
  3. Volatilization – N spread on or near the soil surface changes to ammonia gas and is lost to the atmosphere.

Typically there is more risk of loss when N is applied in the fall because there is more time between application and when the crop actually needs it. But losses happen any time of year in different ways. Therefore, if you’re looking for an insurance policy to protect your investment in this valuable input, it’s important to choose the product that makes the most sense.

The lineup

Agrotain® (Ultra & Advanced) – Liquid that can be impregnated onto dry urea or tank mixed with liquid fertilizer that contains urea such as urea-ammonium nitrate (UAN).  Agrotain Advanced is very similar to Ultra but is more concentrated. These products reduce volatilization so are ideal in the spring or in-season with surface applied UAN or urea.

AgrotainPlus – Dry concentrate added to UAN. (Think of it like a SuperU for liquid fertilizer.)

SuperU® - Granule including urea and nitrification inhibitors that can protect against all three types of N losses.

ESN® Smart Nitrogen – N granule with a polymer coating, which acts as a physical barrier, allowing release of N over time as it is exposed to moisture and increasing temperature. ESN can also help provide N when plants are setting protein, which can increase protein levels.

eNtrench™ - Added to liquid fertilizers or manure, these products inhibit the bacteria that kickstarts the conversion of ammonium to nitrate, maintaining fertilizer as usable N. N-Serve™ works like eNtrench but is used on anhydrous ammonia fertilizer.


If you still have questions about whether you need a nitrogen stabilizer or which one you should use, contact your local Cargill agronomist, who can walk you through your options.

Janina head shot

Janina Currah

Janina is an expert on canola management and growing cereal crops including wheat and oats. She has been working full time in the agriculture industry for 10 years since graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. Janina has been with Cargill for 11 years and has been leading Cargill’s agronomy team in Saskatchewan for the last four. Janina is always improving her knowledge about agronomic issues, and loves sharing solutions with growers and her team.