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Protected urea is Agricultures Answer to the Electric Car

Protected urea and electric cars have a lot in common. Both are beneficial to the environment by reducing their carbon footprint. Seamus Kearney Teagasc Signpost Programme explains that Protected urea is more cost effective than its previous form and 75% less GHG emissions than CAN. Find out more

Protected urea and electric cars have a lot in common. Both are a newer recreation of a previous form, both do the same work as their previous models and both are beneficial to the environment by reducing their carbon footprint (Protected urea has 75% less GHG emissions than CAN fertiliser). The big difference is while electric cars are more expensive than their previous models, protected urea is more cost effective than its previous form.

Why the need to change our fertiliser use to protected urea now?

By switching to 100% protected urea on dairy farms, total farm emissions have the potential to be reduced by 7-8% at a spreading rate of between 200 to 250 kg N / ha. The equivalent savings on total emissions on suckler farms is 1-2%, at a spreading rate of 60 to 80 kg N / ha. Straight P and K fertilisers may need to be used with protected urea to balance nutrient requirements.

What is protected urea?

Protected urea is a urea N fertiliser made safe from ammonia loss with a urease inhibitor on the surface. There are a range of protected urea products on the Irish market with the nitrogen content ranging from 29% to 46%. The lower range N Protected urea (29% N) products can also contain 14% to 15% Potash (K).

When do you use Protected urea?

The big advantage of protected urea is that farmers can use it all during the spreading period from late January to early September. It will work as effective as urea in spring in damp conditions and due to the use of the urease inhibitor it releases slower and acts the same as CAN in the summer period.

How does it affect grass growth?

The following is a summary of research carried out by Teagasc across sites in Clonakilty, Moorepark, Ballyhaise and Athenry. Grass grown by using CAN, protected urea and urea was similar across all fertiliser types.

How much does it cost?

Protected urea is cheaper than CAN and while it may appear slightly dearer than ordinary urea, it will give the same “effective N” as Urea, at a 12.5% lower spreading rate. This would make protected urea more cost effective than both Urea and CAN as spread.

Table 1: Relative Cost per kg N for Different Fertiliser Types

Current costs assumed for fertiliser type *

What does it do for farm emissions?

Protected urea is the only fertiliser type that will reduces both nitrous oxide and ammonia emissions, both of which must be reduced by 2030. Protected urea reduces nitrous oxide losses by 71%, compared to CAN and, reduces ammonia losses by 79%, compared to ordinary Urea.

How does Protected urea Spread?

All urea fertilisers are lower density than CAN, which makes them a little more challenging to spread wide, making bout width choice and machine setting vital. Urea from different sources varies in quality. Larger and stronger granules spread better. Protected urea, will spread similarly to standard urea, provided it is treated and stored well. Choose a product that has larger and stronger particles. Excessive deposits on the spreading vanes indicates poor quality control in production or storage, impacting on even spreading. Provided the correct settings and bout width are used, Protected urea can be spread evenly with most spreaders.

Product Safety

To verify the safety of protected urea research in Teagasc at Johnstown Castle followed protected urea all the way along the food chain from spreading, to grazing, to producing milk to processing milk and no traces of protected urea were detected at any stage along the supply chain.

Handling protected urea

Protected urea is a chemical fertiliser and like all chemical fertilisers, safety equipment such as gloves and protective glasses should be worn when handling all fertiliser types.

Table 2: Benefits of using different fertiliser types

You might also like to read Three Reasons to use Protected Urea in 2022

Find out more here about the Teagasc Signpost Programme