Whether you’re looking to buy peanut butter, pain relievers, or crop protection chemicals, a branded product from a company you know over a low-cost, no-name generic feels like the safe choice. But what’s the real difference between generic and branded ag chemicals? If the branded product is 3x more expensive, is it 3x more effective? With today’s declining commodity prices and increasing input costs, growers have to ask themselves, “What does this really add to my bottom line?”
What is a Generic Ag Chemical?
A generic ag chemical is manufactured and sold by a company other than the original manufacturer, but contains the same Active Ingredient(s). Generic chemicals are typically “off-patent”, meaning their original patent has expired. Thousands of farmers use generic products on hundreds of crops. We’ve pooled this resource to help answer farmers’ most common questions on understanding and using generics.
Do generic products work as well as the equivalent branded products?
Yes. While generic products are not identical to their branded equivalents, they tend to be very similar in terms of performance. In fact, to receive an EPA registration, a generic product must have the same technical make-up as the branded version. Often generic and branded products are even manufactured by the same companies.
I’ve heard that generic manufacturers use lower quality surfactants and inert ingredients to keep prices low, is that true?
No. Generic manufacturers are held to the same EPA standards with regard to inert ingredients and additives, and if the formula is changed by the generic manufacturer, the change must be approved by the EPA. Though variations in inert ingredients could conceivably affect performance, studies that have deliberately controlled for ingredient quality have not found significant variations in performance. Prices for generic products are lower because they are manufactured by more companies rather than a single supplier.
Are generic products identical to the branded products?
No. Generic products are not always identical, so it’s critical that farmers read their product labels to understand the differences.
Take Roundup®. Today, Monsanto’s Roundup PowerMax® contains 4.5 lbs. of acid equivalent of glyphosate, whereas GlyStar® Plus, a generic glyphosate, contains only 3 lbs. So these two products are not identical. But, if a farmer knows that 3 oz. of PowerMax equals the same volume of acid equivalent as 4.5 oz. of GlyStar® Plus, they can apply accordingly and see equivalent performance. Understanding the conversion rates is the key to effectively using generics without losing out on performance.
Concentrations in this table refer to pounds of Acid Equivalent per gallon rather than pounds of Active Ingredient per gallon. Acid Equivalent is the important value when converting concentrations to achieve the same effectiveness from two chemicals. Both Acid Equivalent and Active Ingredient weights usually appear on ag chemical labels. Compare more labels free with CDMS Label Database.
Branded products must contain something special, that’s why they’re more expensive, right?
No. There are branded products on the market that contain only off-patent molecules. For example, Quilt® and Quilt Xcel®, manufactured by Syngenta, contain the active ingredients azoxystrobin and propiconazol, though in different ratios. These actives are sold as generics individually or as a combination called AzoxyProp Xtra by Willowood, a generic manufacturer. By combining off-patent chemicals in new ways, they can be branded as a new product. There’s little new science or additional performance, just tweaks to the formula and a lot of new marketing.
Here are the basics:
- Generic chemicals tend to cost less than their branded equivalents.
- Generic chemicals are held to the same EPA standards as branded products.
- Generic products have comparable performance when applied at equal rates of active ingredients (concentration information can be found on the label).
- With branded products, you pay (in part) for higher levels of service and support.
- Competition is good for farmers! Generic products give farmers more options and lead to lower input prices.
Choosing to use generics over branded products is about understanding the trade-offs. Are you looking for the full support of a branded company or are you focused on lowering production costs? If you’re interested in exploring cost-saving and performance-enhancing strategies and don’t want manufacturer bundles, generics might be for you. The number one rule of thumb when considering generics: read your labels (you can find thousands of chemical labels here). Knowing what’s in your products will give you the information you need to pay for ingredients, not logos.
Interested in learning more about applying chemicals on your farm? We have two options for you:
2. Our PDF Ag Chemical Guide which has been downloaded thousands of times by farmers.
Quilt, Quilt xcel, and Gramoxone are registered trademarks of Syngenta Group Company. PowerMax is a registered trademark of Monsanto Company. GlyStar Plus is a registered trademark of Albaugh LLC. Regent is a registered trademark of BASF Corporation. Taurus is a registered trademark of Control Solutions Inc. Topeka is a registered trademark of Rotam Agrochem International Company. Banvel is a registered trademark of Arysta LifeScience North America LLC.
1.) Siekman, Darrel & Lowell, Sandell. “Comparing Generics vs Name Brand Pesticides”. University of Nebraska: Cropwatch Extension. 10/27/2008. Available here: http://cropwatch.unl.edu/archive/-/asset_publisher/VHeSpfv0Agju/content/888243