Generic vs branded pesticides

The question of whether to use generic vs branded turf pesticides is one turf managers are constantly faced with in any purchasing decision. With the economy struggling and inflation increasing it’s a choice that is becoming more relevant and as turf consultants we are here to help. I would hazard a guess that many of you at some stage may have made a visit to the medicine cupboard for an Aspirin®. Or how many people use “Roundup®” for your weeds?

However, how many of you do use Aspirin® for that troublesome headache or use Roundup® for weed control?

A brief look in my medicine cabinet shows no aspirin. Instead, there is “disprin®” which the packet informs me contains the same active. In the turf industry, the majority of turf managers use a generic Roundup®  as “it’s regarded as the same stuff only cheaper”. Do these work the same and what factors influence this purchasing behaviour?

Generic vs branded pesticides: Definition.

The simplest way to define a generic turf pesticide is as one which is manufactured by a company other than the original manufacturer. A generic manufacturer is, “a company, or division of a company, whose major activity consists of manufacturing the active substances of pesticides, the patents for which have expired, and for which it did not hold the original patents” (Hicks, 1994).


Generic vs branded pesticides. Market share.

In 1996, patent-protected active substances accounted for 47% of the total global agrochemical market (Anon, 1998). As of 2002 generics comprised up to 60% of the herbicide market (Ryan, 2002). In 2016 most analysts put generics share of the total crop protection market at 25% to 30%.

In terms of size, the biggest generic producer in 2008 was the Israeli company Makhteshim-Agan, which partly owned Farmoz (Adama) in Australia. Other major companies included the US Griffin, and the Danish company Cheminova Agro. This increase in the use of generic pesticides lead in 2018 to Reuters to report that even BASF was looking at entering the generic market.

More than 100 kinds of agrochemicals will go off-patent before 2023 valued at US $11.0B. To counter this established players are likely to reformulate off-patent products into profitable agrochemical cocktails.

These look-alike products with different commercial names but the same active ingredient have become increasingly commonplace in the Australian turf market. This raises the question will they work well for you and save you money?




Generic vs branded pesticides: Registration.

Registered agricultural and turf products are priced to include the testing and registration process costs.  It’s this that assures quality and efficacy (Neylan, J 2007). Registered turf chemicals pass a rigorous testing programme that ensures the products are suitable for use. When used according to the label instructions manufacturers provide a warranty.

In the USA to receive Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) registration, a generic product must have the same technical merit as the current manufacturer branded product (Fabrotta, 2007). The active ingredient must be the same technical material, which might be produced by the branded manufacturer or another manufacturer. This is also true of solvents and inert ingredients.

If the formula changes from the original branded product, changes must get approval before it is registered. Any variations in the formulation and the changes must have gained the approval of the EPA for registration.

In the turf industry, chlorothalonil and iprodione are among the chemistries that have been off patent long enough to establish a proven track record. Many superintendents are happy with their respective performances. Examples in the turf industry include the sulfonylurea herbicide Duke® (Iodosulfuron methyl sodium)Voltar® 500 (Indigo Specialty) and chlorothalonil, marketed as Squadron® Weather Ace (Indigo Specialty). For information on branded and generic combination fungicides check our blog article

Patent expiry of pesticides

The reason for the proliferation of these look-alike products is the patent expiration. In the USA, agricultural chemical formulations are patented for 17 years. In Australia, this period is 8 year’s data protection. During those years, only the company that has developed the product is allowed to produce and commercialize it. After this, any company can synthesize the herbicide and commercialize it under a different name.

However, the three reasons for the decision to market an off-patent chemical are not that simple. Firstly, the original manufacturer can lower the branded product’s market pricing, which initially occurred in Australia with imidacloprid.

The second reason is that the original manufacturer might have been successful in developing an improved formulation specific to turf. This is now under patent protection, as with Banner Maxx (144g/L) (Syngenta).

The third obstacle to marketing an off-patent product is cost. While generic turf products offer price advantages, market experience shows that they are only able to capture between 10-30% of the market.

However, assuming a generic manufacturer decides to enter the marketplace the major driver is their cheaper price. As generic manufacturers do not pay the cost of developing the herbicide, they can sell the generic products cheaper than the brand-name alternative.

Regardless, of what company makes the chemical, the core issue is whether generic turf pesticides are as good as brand-name ones.

The simple answer is yes but with provisos.

  • For example a 2017 article, shows that with the right management, you can save money and get the same level of weed control by using generic pesticides.
  • In 2018 while generic pesticides are not identical to their branded equivalents, they tend to be very similar in terms of performance. 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.


Active Ingredients of generic pesticides

Generic and original branded products have the same active ingredients. Consequently, they should have the same performance. However, generic and brand-name pesticides are not required to have the same inactive ingredients.

For example, with soil-applied turf herbicides, the inactive ingredients should only influence the handling and mixing properties of the formulation. Actual performance in the soil should not be affected.

How well the product sticks to the leaf surfaces is another example of where the composition of the inactive ingredients (solvents, stabilizers, emulsifiers, surfactants, and other additives) can also have a big influence.

Additives can make a difference in the performance of the product you are buying.  They are usually listed on the label as inert ingredients with no additional information. Nevertheless, products are extensively tested before release. Differences should be minimal unless one of the inactive ingredients is missing altogether.

Duke Herbcide generic product containing iodosulfuron for Poa annua and perennial ryegrass control
Destiny branded product containing iodosulfuron branded herbicide for onion grass control

The physical form of generic pesticides.

Another difference between generic and brand-name pesticides could be the physical form of the active ingredient.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup® has a host of generic versions on the market.  These may differ in chemical form, i.e. potassium, di-ammonium, or mono-ammonium salts. Nevertheless, several studies showed that only minor differences were observed between the glyphosate formulations. These differences were most likely due to variations in the weed populations.

In conclusion, generic turf products tend to perform as well as their brand-names counterparts. This is provided that they have the same inactive ingredients and isomer structure. When evaluating whether generic products fit your business, you should compare their cost, safety and relative performance.


Gannon and Yelverton (2007) looked at the question of generic plant growth regulators and herbicides to see how they compared.

  • Cost, efficacy, and potential formulation issues were all examined from the Turf Managers’ perspective. These included oxadiazon, quinclorac, and trinexapac ethyl. The end conclusion was that there was no significant difference in these products from the perspective of both efficacy and usage.
  • Kaminski and Lulis (2010) looked at various chlorothalonil products. All treatments continued to provide equal suppression of dollar spot.

In the USA about two-thirds of superintendents apply generic pesticides to their golf courses. About one-third spend half of their total chemical budget on post-patent products, according to a 2006 Golfdom survey. Of those who use generic pesticides, 93% say the primary reason is cost.

Price, product support, and the actual distributor who sells the product are all factors that should enter the “mix” when making a decision.’

Turf agronomy.

Whether purchasing generic or branded products you should buy from reputable dealers who excel at turf agronomy. It is this that will help maintain industry standards. While the products, formulations, and results might be similar between branded and generic products, the support might not be.

For the vast majority of turf managers, this means that there are only a limited number of companies that meet these criteria. Sure there are plenty of companies who can supply the product. There are also plenty of companies who say they give good advice. But how many can advise how to use them properly? As experienced sports turf consultants, we can guide you through any purchasing decision.

Making the purchase decision.

Turf Managers make a purchase decision based on four factors. Effectiveness, long-term economy, the “social relationship” they have with the supplier, and technical support. So while product cost is a consideration, it is not the only factor in the overall purchase equation.

Some branded manufacturers do give more than just product guarantees. These offer continuing education opportunities via product training seminars and sponsorships of professional association meetings. They’re also the only ones conducting research and development, which helps build the foundation for future turfgrass maintenance programs.

But does this justify charging higher-end pricing for technology that is now regarded as being “old hat”? Sure, charging top pricing for new technology is all well and good but can it be justifiable for older molecules?

The reality is that turf professionals now have a range of options when it comes to buying generic or branded products. Significant opportunities exist for generic manufacturers, who can move from complete reliance on price-sensitive, commonly available active substances.

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