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Generic vs. Name-brand Herbicides: Which Is Best for Your Operation?

Posted Apr. 30, 2003

Spring is the time of year when summer pastures are greening up, summer crops are being planted, and things look full of promise for the coming growing season. It's also the time of year to scout for and treat warm-season weeds. If your management program includes controlling weeds, you need to be thinking about options now before weeds get ahead of the crop and become difficult to control.

One of the most common questions I get in the spring concerns what herbicide to use for a particular weed or mix of several weeds. Choosing the correct chemical for the job is essential, but keeping up with changing chemical brand names, especially with all the generics on the market today is a difficult chore. This article is directed at examining the differences between generic and name-brand chemicals and highlighting some common products used in our Oklahoma and Texas service area.

The first question is, "Why the interest in generic chemicals?" The answer is that they often cost less. Agricultural chemical formulations are only patented for 17 years. During this time, the company that developed the product is the only one allowed to produce it. Once the patent expires, anyone can use the same formulation as the original. Generic manufacturers can usually offer this product at a much lower price because they didn't have to pay for the original development and testing that makes up much of the cost of ag chemicals today.

In general, generic versions of herbicides will be cheaper and while product quality is usually just as good as the name brand, it also might not be. Many generic products are not backed by the manufacturer like their brand-name counterparts. Generally, if a herbicide application fails, the generic companies will not pay for you to respray the field, but many name brand companies will. Herbicide tolerant crops almost always require the use of brand-name chemicals. Using a generic would be off label, and any problems would not be warranteed by the chemical/seed company.

You also want to make sure you are comparing products with equivalent amounts of active ingredient. Products with less active ingredient need to be applied at a higher use rate, so make sure you compare apples to apples when shopping.

I'm not against generic chemicals. They definitely have a place in the industry and may be the best choice for weed control in your operation. Just weigh all the options before you buy any product. Name brand herbicides may be higher quality, and rebates and product warranties may be superior. These are all factors to consider when estimating the true cost of a particular chemical. Talk with a reputable chemical salesperson to find out what's available and to find out if any cost differences exist. The best way to find out about generic alternatives is to ask for products by chemical name (eg. glyphosate).