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What is Urea
Urea is an organic compound with the chemical formula (NH2)2CO.
Urea is also known as carbamide, especially in the recommended International Nonproprietary Names (rINN) in use in Europe. For example, the medicinal compound hydroxyurea (old British Approved Name) is now hydroxycarbamide. Other names include carbamide resin, isourea, carbonyl diamide, and carbonyldiamine.
It was the first organic compound to be artificially synthesized from inorganic starting materials, thus dispelling the concept of vitalism.
Urea is used as a nitrogen-release fertilizer, as it hydrolyses back to ammonia and carbon dioxide, but its most common impurity, biuret, must be present at less than 2%, as it impairs plant growth. It is also used in many multi-component solid fertilizer formulations. Its action of nitrogen release is due to the conditions favouring the reagent side of the equilibriums, which produce urea.
Urea is usually spread at rates of between 40 and 300 kg/ha, but actual spreading rates will vary according to farm type and region. It is better to make several small to medium applications at intervals to minimise leaching losses and increase efficient use of the N applied, compared with single heavy applications. During summer, urea should be spread just before, or during rain to reduce possible losses from volatilisation (process wherein nitrogen is lost to the atmosphere as ammonia gas). Urea should not be mixed for any length of time with other fertilizers, as problems of physical quality may result.
Because of the high nitrogen concentration in urea, it is very important to achieve an even spread. The application equipment must be correctly calibrated and properly used. Drilling must not occur on contact with or close to seed, due to the risk of germination damage. Urea dissolves in water for application as a spray or through irrigation systems.
In grain and cotton crops, urea is often applied at the time of the last cultivation before planting. It should be applied into or be incorporated into the soil. In high rainfall areas and on sandy soils (where nitrogen can be lost through leaching) and where good in-season rainfall is expected, urea can be side- or top-dressed during the growing season. Top-dressing is also popular on pasture and forage crops. In cultivating sugarcane, urea is side-dressed after planting, and applied to each ratoon crop.
In irrigated crops, urea can be applied dry to the soil, or dissolved and applied through the irrigation water. Urea will dissolve in its own weight in water, but it becomes increasingly difficult to dissolve as the concentration increases. Dissolving urea in water is endothermic, causing the temperature of the solution to fall when urea dissolves.
As a practical guide, when preparing urea solutions for fertigation (injection into irrigation lines), dissolve no more than 30 kg urea per 100 L water.
In foliar sprays, urea concentrations of 0.5% – 2.0% are often used in horticultural crops. As urea sprays may damage crop foliage, specific advice should be sought before use. Low-biuret grades of urea should be used if urea sprays are to be applied regularly or to sensitive horticultural crops.