Foliar urea fertilization of cereals: A review

M. J. Gooding, W. P. Davies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It has been suggested that there are several potential benefits of providing nitrogen to cereals via the foliage as urea solution. These include: reduced nitrogen losses through denitrification and leaching compared with nitrogen fertilizer applications to the soil; the ability to provide nitrogen when root activity is impaired e.g., in saline or dry conditions, and uptake late in the season to increase grain nitrogen concentration. Factors that influence the degree of foliar absorption in field conditions have not, however, been clearly defined and losses to the atmosphere and soil can occur. Foliar urea applications may also hinder crop productivity although the explanations for this vary, and include desiccation of leaf cells, aqueous ammonia and urea toxicity, biuret contamination and the disruption of carbohydrate metabolism. It has not yet been determined which one, or combinations, of these mechanisms are most important in field situations. When damage has not been severe, foliar urea applications have increased grain yield, particularly when applied before flag leaf emergence and when nitrogen availability is limiting. Increases in grain nitrogen content are often larger when applications of nitrogen fertilizers to the soil are reduced, and when the urea solution is sprayed either at anthesis or during the following two weeks. It is during this period that foliar urea sprays can be of greater benefit than soil applications with regard to nitrogen utilization by the crop. Increases in wheat grain nitrogen concentration following urea application can improve breadmaking quality. Responses in loaf quality may, however, be variable particularly when increases in grain nitrogen content have been large, and/or when the nitrogen: sulphur ratio in the grain is increased. These circumstances have lead to alterations in the proportions of the different protein fractions which influence breadmaking potential.
To exploit the full potential benefits of foliar urea application to cereals, more needs to be known about the mechanisms, and thus how to prevent losses of nitrogen from the foliage, and to reduce the phytotoxic influences of sprays. More information is also required to exploit the reported effects that urea may have on limiting the development of cereal diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-222
Number of pages14
JournalFertilizer Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Aug 1992


  • wheat
  • maize
  • barley
  • rice
  • foliar urea
  • grain yield
  • breadmaking quality
  • Wheat


Dive into the research topics of 'Foliar urea fertilization of cereals: A review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this