Generic crop protection products can offer growers excellent results whilst slashing thousands from their input bills, yet some farmers remain wary about switching from branded alternatives.
We take a look at some of the myths behind non-branded options to help you decide whether generic products could be a money-saving option for your farm.
Myth 1: “They’re cheap because they’re no good”
Because generic manufacturers don’t spend millions of pounds on discovering, developing and testing active ingredients, they can usually supply products which are much cheaper than their original version.
This doesn’t mean the product isn’t effective. If it is combined with equivalent - or sometimes even more effective - chemicals than the original product, then it could provide better value for producers.
Read the labels to compare key ingredients, and if there’s anything you’re not sure about then speak to an advisor or contact the manufacturer to ask.
Myth 2: “Buying generics won't save me that much money”
While some savings are more significant than others, farmers on Yagro switching to like-for-like generic products regularly cut chemical bills by 50%, on occasion even saving as much as 85%.
“A few minutes of research could save you huge amounts in the long-run,” says Nottinghamshire agronomist Gary Hartley.
“If the difference is just a few pence then moving from branded to generics perhaps isn’t worth it.
“But when you start talking about pounds per hectare, it’s worth looking into the products more seriously and finding out what results they might be able to offer you.”
Myth 3: “They might work in some cases, but generics won't perform as well as branded products”
Independent trials have shown that generic products can be just as good as their branded equivalents, but it’s all about doing your research, says Cambridgeshire farmer and agronomist Russ McKenzie.
“Don’t just go out and buy the cheapest product,” he says. “Buy from a reputable company, read labels carefully, and get feedback from buying groups and suppliers to find out whether something is a good formulation.”
“If you save a pound on something and it doesn't mix well or isn’t compatible with the tank, then that’s obviously no good - you need to choose products that work.”
Myth 4: “Generics are based on expired patents, so the formulations they use aren’t up-to-date”
This definitely isn’t the case for many post-patent products, says Dan Macdonald of Rotam, which specialises in post-patent crop protection products.
While there are some manufacturers which simply manufacture, import and sell generic products, Rotam invests heavily in research and development of post patent active ingredients.
At present, the company has 235 scientists working in laboratories accredited to the highest European standards who are developing formulation improvements.
“We take post-patent chemistry and apply modern science to it to find ways to improve formulations,” Dan says. “It might involve improving formulations so they have better uptake in the plant.”
“We start from the beginning, looking at how we can add value to the products.”
Myth 5: “If I buy generic products I won’t get any customer support”
R&D companies pride themselves on their top levels of customer support, but that doesn’t mean that buying products from post-patent companies will leave you out in the cold if you have a question or something goes wrong.
As with all things, some companies will do a better job than others, and this is often where buying from reputable companies can help. It’s well worth doing your homework to find out which offer the level of support you want.
Myth 6: “Generic products are more damaging to the environment”
If a product isn’t deemed safe for the environment then it won’t get registered, whether a product is a branded or generic one.
“We are heavily regulated in the UK, and if we came up with a product concept today it would be five years before it would find its way to the marketplace,” says Dan Macdonald.
“We have years of trials, evaluations and checks - huge amounts of time and money are spent on checking post-patent and branded products are safe.”
Myth 7: “If I buy generic products, R&D companies won’t be able to invest in developing new products”
About 10% of the money spent on branded products goes back into development of new products to tackle emerging pests and diseases, as well as other research.
“That’s an important aspect for me, and why I will always use both branded and generic products,” says Gary Hartley.
“Saving money is only part of the argument - if we’re not prepared to pay for research then we can’t complain if new products aren’t developed.”
Dan Macdonald agrees there should be a balance of both. “We need R&D manufacturers to come up with new types of chemistry to tackle issues such as resistant blackgrass” he says.
“But while they are concentrating on that, there needs to be a focus on post-patent products to see if they can be used more efficiently and sustainably.”