Comparing Generic Versus Name Brand Pesticides

Robert Klein – Nebraska Extension, Western Nebraska Crops Specialist
Robert Tigner – Nebraska Extension,  Extension Educator

(This article is part of Nebraska Extension’s Strengthening Nebraska’s Agricultural Economy series.)

Over time, increasing numbers of generic pesticides have become available for use on agronomic crops. Much like prescription drugs, generic products have the same active ingredient as the brand name products and can perform similarly. Often the labels of generic and proprietary products are the same.

Price Survey

Pesticide prices used here are based on an annual University of Nebraska survey of pesticide distributors, dealers, and manufacturers. For more information on prices used in this series, see:

Approximate Retail Price of Selected Herbicides, Fungicides, and Insecticides, excerpted from the 2017 Guide for Weed, Disease and Insect Management in Nebraska (EC130);
Prices Used in Developing 2017 Nebraska Crop Budgets ; and the Nebraska Crop Budgets

When selecting between a generic and brand name pesticide, compare their labels as products with even slightly different active and inactive ingredients can have varying performances. It is important to note that generics may have a lower or different concentration of active ingredients which should be factored into the cost of use.

Products in the farm chemical market, like the pharmaceutical market, must be approved by governmental regulating agencies. In the case of farm chemicals, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approves their use. These approvals are based on strict manufacturing guidelines. Generic products, just like branded products, must meet these guidelines to be legally sold and used.

Savings can be small or large depending on which generic and branded pesticides are being compared. For example, the cost of a generic winter wheat rust fungicide is $1.49/acre versus $18.60/acre for the name brand product.

In this case, the cost of the generic is only 8% of the name brand, a savings of $17,110 for 1,000 acres to treat rust in wheat. However, when if you were targeting fusarium head blight (scab) in wheat, the name brand product provides better control compared to the generic. Thus, it’s important to check the ratings in the Guide for Weed, Disease and Insect Management in Nebraska (EC130) to compare products, performance, and ingredients.

Let’s now consider an instance when the cost and the concentration vary between the generic and the proprietary products. In the 2017 Nebraska Crop Budgets, a popular generic herbicide lists for $12.50/gallon while a seemingly similar name brand product lists for $32.00/gallon. The generic is less concentrated and has 3 lbs ai/gallon while the name brand is more concentrated and has 4.5 lbs ai/gallon. The recommended application rates are 32 ounces/acre for the generic and 22 ounces/acre for the name brand. Using these guidelines, the cost per acre is $3.12 for the generic and $5.50 for the name brand product. The generic herbicide is 56% less costly than the branded one.

Brand Benefits

While generic products may save you money, they aren’t always the right choice. In some cases, there may be other reasons to use a branded label, including:

  • dealer and manufacturer service,
  • ease of mixing (only adding one material),
  • quality of product,
  • efficacy of product, and
  • product confidence.

If you are unsure about a generic product, test it on a limited basis before commiting to farm scale use.

Pesticide Information on the Web

Websites are another source of pesticide information, offering prices that can be compared with local prices. They also provide information to help you research pesticides and compare prices, potentially saving you thousands of dollars. However, be careful with any new or unfamiliar website until you are satisfied it is secure, the sellers are reputable, and you understand their purchase and delivery conditions.

Your local dealers may be willing to negotiate and offer similar deals if you do not expect much more than the product in return. Your local dealer, as a member of your community, may be open to pricing products based on your service expectation: full service, partial service, no service. No service would be similar to that provided by an Internet purchase.

Use the Guide for Weed, Disease and Insect Management in Nebraska (EC130) to compare products, performance, and ingredients.

UNL Tests Comparing Generic and Name Brand Pesticides

Are the generic products just as good for mixing and performance? The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has done numerous field trials at various locations throughout Nebraska, including Concord, Lincoln, Clay Center, North Platte, Ogallala, and Sidney. These trials were done using glyphosate-tolerant soybeans and corn.

As a whole, few differences were observed among glyphosate brands; however, with difficult to control weed species and dry conditions, differences may exist. Weed species that are susceptible to glyphosate exhibited little or no difference in response. Herbicide rate, environmental factors, and costs played a larger role than brand name in product selection. (For further information on these studies, see the 2002 and 2003 North Central Weed Science Society Abstracts 57:81, 58:107, 58:21.)

In 2001 a soybean trial near Lincoln compared 18 glyphosate products and found that although conditions were very dry before and after herbicide application, efficacy was similar with all treatments. Although there were some differences in glyphosate brands within a rate, those differences were not consistent across both the half and full rates of glyphosate at either the 14 or 28 days after treatment (DAT) rating. No crop injury was observed from any treatment.

These treatments were applied July 3 with a tractor-mounted sprayer at a rate of 10 gpa, a speed of 3 mph and a pressure of 30 psi. Air temperature was 96°F and soil temperature was 95°F and very dry. Relative humidity was 44% with a 30% cloud cover and a wind of 4 mph. No rainfall was recorded within the first week after application but in the second week, there was 0.25 inch of rain. At the time of application, soybeans were approximately 15 inches high at the sixth trifoliate leaf. Weeds such as common sunflower were 17-25 inches with approximately 25 plants per square meter, velvetleaf was 12-18 inches tall and dispersed at 2-5 per square meter, and the annual grasses, which included yellow and green foxtail and large crabgrass, were 8-12 inches tall scattered at 2-5 per square meter.

Similar experiments at Iowa State University (ISU) had the same results. ISU also did work with metolachlor-based products. Bob Hartzler, ISU extension weed specialist and one of the authors, indicated that if the differences in active ingredients are considered, the generic products performed similarly to the branded ones.

Generics Represent Savings

Savings on generic products extend beyond drug prescriptions and pesticides. The same strategy can be used for tires, fuel, parts, antifreeze, oil, seeds, etc., but the same basic selection principles apply.

  • Know the differences between the generic and branded product.
  • Know the value difference, not just the price.
  • Know the conditions of sale, i.e. return, guarantee, etc., and the service you are getting with your purchase.
  • Understand how this choice may affect your relationship with local or area suppliers.

Summary

  • Generic products may be less expensive.
  • Generic products can work as well as name brand products.
  • Make sure you understand the differences in the generic product before deciding to buy it.
  • Make sure you understand who and what the conditions are when you make any chemical purchase.

About Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a Professor and Extension Entomologist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You can reach him by email at rwright2@unl.edu. Follow him on Twitter @BobWrightUNL
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