Nitrification inhibition by metalaxyl as influenced by pH, temperature, and moisture content in three soils

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Metalaxyl, [N—(2,6-Dimethylphenyl)-N-(Methoxyacetyl)-alanine methyl ester], is used extensively in tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.) production for prevention of black shank (Phytophthora parasitica Dast. var. nicotianae), blue mold (Peronospora tabacina Adam), and damping-off (Pythigm spp.). Metalaxyl is also patented as a nitrification inhibitor, although not marketed for that purpose. Proper maturity and ripening of flue-cured tobacco depends on an adequate supply of N through the time of removal of the inflorescence, with a declining supply of N from that point. Use of a chemical which might prolong the availability of N in tobacco could delay maturity and reduce the quality of the cured leaf. These studies were conducted to determine whether metalaxyl might inhibit nitrification under a broad range of soil physical and environmental conditions prevalent in the tobacco producing areas of Virginia. The influence of soil type, soil pH, soil temperature, and soil moisture on inhibition of nitrification by metalaxyl (1 mg kg⁻¹) were investigated in three soils used extensively for tobacco production. Soils used in the study were Cecil sandy loam (clayey, kaolinitic, thermic Typic Hapludult), Appomattox fine sandy loam (clayey, mixed, thermic Typic Kandhapludult), and Mattoponi sandy loam (clayey, mixed, thermic Typic Hapludult). Metalaxyl did not inhibit nitrification under any of the conditions studied. However, NO₂⁻ accumulation with metalaxyl was sometimes greater than the control, especially at high pH (7.0) in the Cecil and Appomattox soils, and at 10 and 20°C. Nitrite and NO₃⁻ accumulations from four rates of metalaxyl (1, 5, 25, and 125 mg kg⁻¹) were compared with those of an untreated control and a nitrapyrin standard over a seven week soil incubation period in further studies using the same soils and adjusted pH levels. Significant NO₂⁻ accumulation occurred during the first week after treatment at high pH in all soil types, with 5, 25, and 125 mg kg⁻¹ metalaxyl. Only the 125 mg kg⁻¹ metalaxyl treatment caused NO₂⁻ accumulation at the high pH in all soils beyond the second week after treatment, with the peak occurring in most cases between weeks three and four. Nitrate accumulation proceeded normally in all soil types and pH levels except with treatments of 25 and 125 mg kg". Nitrate accumulations with 25 mg kg⁻¹ were similar to those for nitrapyrin. The 125 mg kg⁻¹ rate was consistent in causing near total inhibition of NO₃⁻ accumulation at all pH levels in all soils. Nitrate accumulation tended to be lower at lower soil pH levels compared to the highest pH for all soils. Little difference in nitrification due to soil appears to be evident. Use of metalaxyl at recommended rates of 0.25 to 1.5 mg kg⁻¹ would not be expected to inhibit nitrification.