Cyanate can serve as a nitrogen and/or carbon source for different microorganisms and as an energy source for autotrophic ammonia oxidizers. However, the extent of cyanate availability and utilisation in terrestrial ecosystems and its role in biogeochemical cycles is poorly known. Here we analyse cyanate concentrations in soils across a range of soil types, land management practices and climates. Soil cyanate concentrations were three orders of magnitude lower than ammonium or nitrate. We determined cyanate consumption in a grassland and rice paddy soil using stable isotope tracer experiments. We find that cyanate turnover was rapid and dominated by biotic processes. We estimated that in-situ cyanate production rates were similar to those associated with urea fertilizer decomposition, a major source of cyanate in the environment. We provide evidence that cyanate is actively turned over in soils and represents a small but continuous nitrogen/energy source for soil microbes.