Leaching of three sulfonylurea herbicides during sprinkler irrigation

Sulfonylurea herbicides are widely applied on the Canadian prairies to control weeds in a variety of crops. Several sulfonylurea herbicides are mobile in soil, and there is concern about their possible movement to ground water. This study was performed to assess the susceptibility of three sulfonylurea herbicides commonly used in prairie crop production to leach under a worst-case scenario. Thifensulfuron-methyl, tribenuron-methyl, and rimsulfuron were applied to a 9-ha tile-drained field, and then approximately 300 mm of irrigation water were applied over a 2-wk period using a center pivot. The commencement of tile-drain flow corresponded to the rise of the water table above tile-drain depth, and peak flow rates corresponded to the greatest depths of ground water above the tile drains. The volume of irrigation water intercepted by the tile drains in each quadrant was determined by site hydrology and represented <10% of the irrigation water applied. Concentrations of thifensulfuron-methyl, tribenuron-methyl, and rimsulfuron in the tile-drain effluent ranged (analysis by liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry) from 2.0 to 248 ng L–1, not detected (nd) to 55 ng L–1, and nd to 497 ng L–1, respectively. Total herbicide transport from the root zone in each quadrant was estimated at <0.5% of the amount of each sulfonylurea herbicide applied. Thifensulfuron-methyl was the only herbicide detected in ground water, with concentrations ranging from 1.2 to 2.5 ng L–1. With the frequency and amount of rainfall typically encountered in the prairie region of Canada, detectable concentrations (>1 ng L–1) of these sulfonylurea herbicides in ground water would be unlikely.

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