This study compared water quality effects of using precision herbicide application technologies and traditional spraying approaches across several regulated ‘priority’ and alternative pre- and post-emergent herbicides in a northern Australian cane farming system. Use of herbicide banding spray technologies resulted in pre-emergent herbicide load reductions, extending substantially beyond simple proportionate decreases in the amount of herbicide ingredient applied to paddocks. Aquatic risk assessment from resultant chemical mixtures leaving paddocks, and upscaled to local catchment concentrations, highlighted that precision application technologies could markedly reduce the ecological risk of pre-emergent herbicides. These risk reductions were, however, often complicated by the additional toxicity of post-emergent herbicides in mixtures, some associated with the adoption of band-spraying weed treatments. While the currently regulated priority herbicide, diuron, posed the greatest risk to the environment, alternative herbicides could still pose significant environmental risks, although these relative risks were lower at more ecologically relevant concentrations, typically found in the local freshwater ecosystems. Results underline the need for a carefully considered approach to integrating alternative herbicides and precision application technologies into improved weed management by irrigating cane farmers. Recent government changes to the appraisal of water quality improvement progress, from load-based to ecosystem-based targets, involving a much broader suite of herbicides, also appear likely to complicate assessment of the environmental impacts of practice change adoption for the industry.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited