Actively seeking solutions


As many turf and ornamental pesticide active ingredients have gone off patent, LCOs have more choices when it comes to product selection.

How do you decide whether 
to use a patented or off-patent pesticide product?

1. Consider profitability.

Most lawn care companies operate on slim margins and are affected by factors outside their operational control—such as the weather or how clients mow and irrigate their turf.

“So you have to look for any advantage you can get in the marketplace,” says Bob Mann, corporate agronomist for The Lawn Dawg, based in Nashua, N.H. “When you can purchase something at a lower price point, that drops right to the bottom line.”

Typically, off-patent products are cheaper than their brand-name counterparts, but when the active ingredients come off patent, the original manufacturers often reduce the price of the branded products to be more in line with the generic competitors, Mann says.

“It’s not as though you automatically go to the off-patent product,” he says.

2. Evaluate products carefully.

Take the same approach to test an off-patent product as you would any branded product to ensure it’s effective and works within your program.

“We use it in a limited circumstance initially, so we can evaluate it and in the worst-case scenario, shut the barn door on it,” Mann says. “These (off-patent) products aren’t formulated in the same way the original product was, so you have to be careful with how they’re interacting with the other products you’re using.”

Even though most products—branded and off-patent—have been tested extensively by the manufacturers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and universities, there’s no substitute for real-world trials, Mann says.

At The Lawn Dawg, experienced staff members, typically branch managers, will test new products on their own properties or on “pet routes.” They’ll photograph the results and relay them to Mann. If the first season’s trials go well, the company will consider budgeting for the product for the following year. The Lawn Dawg typically makes these decisions in August for the following year.

Tim Johnson, president of Tim Johnson Landscaping in Statesville, N.C., also carefully evaluates off-patent products before making a switch in his program.

“I’ve got 80,000 square feet of turf at my house and we have another 30,000 square feet at my father’s house,” he says. “We’ll use those to do a limited test before we take (new products) out into the yards.”

Mann also hesitates to use any new product the first season it comes out. “You never buy the first year of a particular car model,” he says. “It’s just good business and common sense. Let somebody else make the mistake.”

3. Ask around and consider support.

Remember, distributors and manufacturer reps are your friends. Ask their opinions and request that they connect you with other LCOs who have used a certain product, whether it’s branded or off patent.

“We have a very strong relationship with our distributor,” Johnson says. “We rely heavily on his opinion and his opinion determines how we test a product.”

Johnson also has cultivated strong relationships with his reps at the manufacturer level and doesn’t hesitate to ask them for application and tank-mixing advice or about what they’re seeing in the field.

And don’t forget to rely on manufacturers’ technical support teams.

“With the original manufacturers, their deep pockets really show,” Mann says. “You get a deep bench as far as staff agronomists and technical people. But there are a number of off-patent manufacturers that do the same thing and make sure the customer is well taken care of. But as soon as you realize you’re dealing with a company that’s not willing to support you, you simply move on to someone else. There’s a lot of choice out there.”

Branded vs. off-patent pesticide glossary

Active ingredients: The chemicals in pesticide products that kill, control or repel pests. Pesticide product labels include the name of each active ingredient and its concentration in the product.

Basic manufacturers: Companies, such as BASF, Bayer, Dow, FMC and Syngenta, that invest millions of dollars and many years to discover, research, test, formulate and patent active ingredients and bring branded products to market.

Branded products: Also known as on-patent products, these are typically marketed by basic manufacturers.

Inert ingredients: Other ingredients in a pesticide that are not named on product labels for EPA-registered pesticides because their identity is considered “confidential business information.” These are typically different between a branded product and an off-patent product and may play a key role in a product’s effectiveness.

Off-patent products: Also known as a generic or post-patent products, these pesticides are manufactured or formulated by a company that doesn’t hold the original patent for the active ingredient but has purchased the rights to it.

Off-patent manufacturers or formulators: Companies that purchase the rights to an active ingredient after it goes off patent.

Patent process: Once an active ingredient is patented, the original manufacturer has 17 years of patent protection to exclusively market it. When the patent expires, other companies can purchase the rights to the active ingredient to formulate off-patent products.

Sources: BASF, FMC TurfWire, National Pesticide Information Center


Photos: ©iStock.com/Elhenyo, ©istock.com/adventtr


Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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