Straighthead is a 'physiological' disorder of rice, the symptoms being floret sterility, deformed florets and panicles and reduced grain yield. Straighthead in rice is difficult to investigate because of its unpredictable occurrence under field conditions. An experiment was conducted in south-eastern Australia in 1996 to investigate the effect of rate and timing of N fertilisation on growth and yield of rice. The presence of straighthead at this location gave a unique opportunity to study the influence of crop N status. This paper reports the influence of N application on straighthead symptoms during this experiment. A significant reduction of straighthead occurred with higher rates of N application. Application of 250 kg N/ha pre-flood, improved plant growth and vigour with subsequent increased uptake and accumulation of S, P, K, Mg, Cu, Mn and Zn in the plant at panicle initiation. The reduction of straighthead at high nitrogen rates may be due to improved uptake of several essential nutrients, and Cu may be a critical nutrient. This study and earlier observations have shown the application of optimal levels of pre-flood nitrogen to achieve grain yields greater than 10 t/ha may reduce straighthead severity in the Australian rice-growing environment. The results in this paper are not presented as recommendations to growers but a contribution to the currently limited literature on straighthead in Australia.