Reduction in metolachlor and degradate concentrations in shallow groundwater through cover crop use

J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Oct 28;57(20):9658-67. doi: 10.1021/jf9021527.


Pesticide use during crop production has the potential to adversely impact groundwater quality. In southern Florida, climatic and hydrogeologic conditions and agronomic practices indicate that contamination risks are high. In the current study, dissipation of the widely used herbicide, metolachlor, and levels of the compound and selected degradates in shallow groundwater beneath six 0.15-ha plots in sweet corn (Zea mays) production were evaluated over a two-year period. During fallow periods (May to October), plots were either left bare or cover cropped with sunn hemp (Crotalaria juncea L.). Metolachlor was broadcast applied at label recommended rates prior to planting sweet corn each year. Groundwater monitoring wells hydraulically upgradient and downgradient, and within each plot were sampled biweekly. Results showed that metolachlor dissipation was rapid, as evidenced by the detection of relatively high levels of the metolachlor ethane sulfonic degradate (MESA) in groundwater beneath plots and a rapid metolachlor DT(50) (9-14 days) in a companion laboratory soil incubation. Other degradates detected included hydroxymetolachlor in soil and in groundwater metolachlor oxanilic acid (MOA) and a product tentatively identified as 2-chloro-N-(2-acetyl-6-methylphenyl-N-(2-methoxy-1-methylethyl) acetamide, a photo-oxidation product. Metolachlor and MESA levels, up to 16 and 2.4 times higher in groundwater beneath the noncover cropped plots when compared to those of the cover cropped plots, indicate that cover cropping results in more rapid dissipation and/or reduced leaching. The study demonstrated that integration of cover crops into agronomic systems in the region may yield water quality benefits by reducing herbicide inputs to groundwater.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetamides / analysis*
  • Acetamides / metabolism
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Crops, Agricultural / metabolism*
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation / methods*
  • Herbicides / analysis*
  • Herbicides / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / metabolism


  • Acetamides
  • Herbicides
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • metolachlor