Effect of water pH on the stability of pesticides

Editor’s note: This article is from the archives of the MSU Crop Advisory Team Alerts. Check the label of any pesticide referenced to ensure your use is included.

Most pesticides are sold in concentrated form and have to be dissolved or suspended in water before they can be applied to crops. This water can come from various sources, such as wells, ponds, rivers, or municipal water supplies. Water naturally varies in the amount of dissolved minerals, organic matter and pH, depending on its source. The pH is a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of water, which refers to the number of hydrogen (H+) and hydroxyl (OH¯) ions in a solution. The scale for measuring pH runs from zero to 14. The lower the pH, the more acidic the solution, while a higher pH indicates that the solution is more alkaline. Water at pH 7 is neutral, meaning there are an equal number of hydrogen and hydroxyl ions in the solution. Many areas in Michigan have alkaline water with high mineral/iron content. In addition, the pH of water from natural sources can vary throughout the season.

The pH of water can negatively affect the stability of some pesticides. Under alkaline conditions, alkaline hydrolysis occurs which degrades the pesticide to non-toxic (inactive) forms. In general, insecticides (particularly organophosphates and carbamates) are more susceptible to alkaline hydrolysis than are fungicides, herbicides or growth regulators. The end result is less active ingredient applied and poor pesticide performance. The degradation of a pesticide can be measured in terms of its half life. For example, if a product has a half life of one hour, the amount of active ingredient is reduced to 50 percent in one hour, to 25 percent in the next hour, to 12.5 percent in the next hour, etc. Eventually, the pesticide becomes virtually ineffective. The effect of pH on pesticides varies from product to product and is also moderated by buffering solutions contained in the pesticide formulation. Tank-mixing multiple pesticides can modify the pH of the tank-mix.

The accompanying table shows the half life of a number of pesticide products as well as the optimum pH (where known). As you can see from the table, most pesticides are most stable when the spray solution is at a pH of about five. As many water sources are more alkaline than this, it may be necessary to adjust the pH of the spray solution. Do not attempt to acidify solutions containing copper-based fungicides, since copper becomes more soluble at a lower pH and may become phytotoxic to crops. In addition, phosphorous acid and other acid-based fungicides should not be acidified since they already have a low pH and lowering it could cause phytotoxicity. On the other hand, acidifying carbonate salt fungicides, such as Armicarb, may render them ineffective.

Product

Active ingredient

Optimum pH

Half Life / Time until 50% Hydrolysis**

Insecticides/Miticides

Admire

Imidacloprid

7.5

Greater than 31 days at pH 5 - 9

Agri-Mek

Avermectin

 

Stable at pH 5 - 9

Ambush

Permethrin

7

Stable at pH 6 - 8

Apollo

clofentezine

 

pH 7 = 34 hrs; pH 9.2 = 4.8 hrs

Assail

acetamiprid

5 - 6

Unstable at pH below 4 and above 7

Avaunt

indoxacarb

 

Stable for 3 days at pH 5 – 10

Carzol

formetanate hydrochloride

5

Not stable in alkaline water; use within 4 hrs of mixing.

Cygon/Lagon

dimethoate

5

pH 4 = 20 hrs; pH 6 = 12 hrs; pH 9 = 48 min

Cymbush

cypermethrin

 

pH 9 = 39 hours

Diazinon

phosphorothioate

7

pH 5 = 2 wks; pH 7 = 10 wks; pH 8 = 3 wks; pH 9 = 29 days

Dipel/Foray

b. thuringiensis

6

Unstable at pH above 8

Dylox

trichlorfon

 

pH 6 = 3.7 days; pH 7 = 6.5 hrs; pH 8 = 63 min

Endosulfan

endosulfan

 

70% loss after 7 days at pH 7.3 – 8

Furadan

carbofuran

 

pH 6 = 8 days; pH 9 = 78 hrs

Guthion

azinphos-methyl

 

pH 5 = 17 days; pH 7 = 10 days; pH 9 = 12 hrs

Imidan

phosmet

5

pH 5 = 7 days; pH 7 < 12 hrs; pH 8 = 4 hrs

Kelthane

dicofol

5.5

pH 5 = 20 days; pH 7 = 5 days; pH 9 = 1hr

Lannate

methomyl

 

Stable at pH below 7

Lorsban

chlorpyrifos

 

pH 5 = 63 days; pH 7 = 35 days; pH 8 = 1.5 days

Malathion

dimethyl dithiophosphate

5

pH 6 = 8 days; pH 7 = 3 days; pH 8 = 19 hrs; pH 9 = 5 hrs

Matador

lambda-cyhalothrin

6.5

Stable at pH 5 - 9

Mavrik

tau-fluvalinate

 

pH 6 = 30 days; pH 9 = 1 - 2 days

Mitac

amitraz

5

pH 5 = 35 hrs; pH 7 = 15 hrs; pH 9 = 1.5 hrs

Omite

propargite

 

Effectiveness reduced at pH above 7

Orthene

acephate

 

pH 5 = 55 days; pH 7 = 17 days; pH 9 = 3 days

Pounce

permethrin

6

pH 5.7 to 7.7 is optimal

Pyramite

pyridaben

 

Stable at pH 4 – 9

Sevin XLR

carbaryl

7

pH 6 = 100 days; pH 7 = 24 days; pH 8 = 2.5 days; pH 9 = 1 day  

SpinTor

spinosad

6

Stable at pH 5 – 7; pH 9 = 200 days

Thiodan

endosulfan

6.5

70% loss after 7 days at pH 7.3 to 8

Zolone

phosalone

6

Stable at pH 5 – 7; pH 9 = 9 days

Fungicides

 

Aliette

fosetyl-al

6

Stable at pH 4.0 to 8.0

Benlate

benomyl

 

pH 5 = 80 hrs; pH 6 = 7 hrs; pH 7 = 1 hr; pH 9 = 45 min

Bravo

chlorothalonil

7

Stable over a wide range of pH values

Captan

captan

5

pH 5 = 32 hrs; pH 7 = 8 hrs; pH 8 = 10 min

Dithane

mancozeb

6

pH 5 = 20 days; pH 7 = 17 hrs; pH 9 = 34 hrs

Nova

myclobutanil

 

Not affected by pH

Ridomil

mefenoxam

 

pH 5 – 9 = more than 4 weeks

Rovral

iprodione

 

Chemical breakdown could take place at high pH

Orbit

propiconazole

 

Stable at pH 5 – 9

Herbicides

 

Banvel

dicamba

 

Stable at pH 5 - 6

Fusilade

fluazifop-p

 

pH 4.5 = 455 days; pH 7 = 147 days; pH 9 = 17 days

Ignite

glufosinate-ammonium

5.5

 

Gramoxone

paraquat

 

Not stable at pH above 7

Poast

sethoxydim

7

Stable at pH 4.0 to 10

Princep

simazine

 

pH 4.5 = 20 days; pH 5 = 96 days; pH 9 = 24 days

Prowl

pendimethalin

 

Stable over a wide range of pH values

Roundup

glyphosate

5 - 6

 

Touchdown

glyphosate

5 - 6

 

Treflan

triflularin

 

Very stable over a wide range of pH values

Weedar

2,4-d

 

Stable at pH 4.5 to 7

**The half-life is the period of time it takes for one half of the amount of pesticide in the water to degrade. Other factors than the pH can affect the rate of hydrolysis, including temperature, solubility, concentration, type of agitation, humidity, and other pesticides and adjuvants in the mixture.

Check the pH of the water used for spraying pesticides frequently throughout the season. If you know that your water has a pH of 7.5 or greater, consider lowering the pH, especially if you are applying a pesticide that is sensitive to high pH. The fastest way to determine the pH level of water is to test it with a pH meter or test paper. Paper test strips are the least expensive; however, they can be unreliable and can vary by as much as two pH points. A pH meter will provide the most reliable and consistent readings. Meters are available commercially for $50 to $400.

Adjust the water pH by using a commercially available acidifying/buffering agent before adding the pesticide. Buffering agents, such as Buffercide, Buffer-X, Unifilm B, and LI 700 Acidiphactant, will stabilize a spray solution at a predetermined pH and keep it at that level. Read and closely follow the directions on the label of the buffering agent and make sure that the solution is stirred well before taking a pH measurement. While a pH of five may be optimal, a pH of six is usually satisfactory for many pesticides, especially if they will be sprayed out immediately after mixing. Some buffering agents such as pHase5 or PHT indicate five will have a color indicator when the correct pH is achieved. Growers can add this product into the water until it reaches the color that indicates a given pH. For example, five = pink or red; six = orange; etc. Granulated food grade citric acid may be the most convenient and inexpensive acidifying material and is available in 50-pound bags from suppliers that handle food grade chemicals. Two ounces per 100 gallons has been shown to reduce the pH of tap water from 8.3 to 5.4.

When tank mixing multiple pesticides or foliar fertilizers, check the pH after the products have been thoroughly mixed and adjust the pH as needed. Not all pesticides react the same to the pH of the spray water solution and some products should not be used with buffering agents. Always read pesticide labels for any precautions with respect to pH and potential product incompatibility issues. Apply pesticides soon after mixing and avoid leaving pesticide tank mixes in the spray tank overnight.

Dr. Schilder’s work is funded in part by MSU‘s AgBioResearch.