Jun 3, 2022
Understanding active ingredients in pesticides

One of my most common functions as a county Extension agent is helping clientele control unwanted insects, weeds, diseases, or some other kind of pest that is affecting their agricultural crops, as well as the front flower bed.

Extension programs in every state are armed with tremendous, up-to-date, research-based information to assist producers in protecting their crops, their landscapes and the environment with safe, quality solutions. But so much of the time, I focus on the active ingredient, and, at times, am not up to date on the latest brand name.

Stepping away from agriculture, let us use the headache medicine known as Tylenol as an example. I am guessing most everyone is familiar with the pain-relieving product. Several folks can even name the active ingredient in it, acetaminophen. Yet how many pain-relieving products have acetaminophen and
are not “Tylenol”? I imagine there are several.

In the same way, I often get asked about a “new” crop protection product and am found confused, since I have never heard of it.

Consider the common weed killer, glyphosate. Yes, that is what is in Roundup, but have you ever heard of Erasur, Kill-Zall, Ranger, Rodeo, Credit, PowerMax, Weed Pro, Kleenup, Accord, Honcho, E-Z-Ject, Jury, Mirage, Protocol, Rattler, Ruler, Silhouette, Glypro, AquaNeat, or Touchdown? Those are all brand names of herbicides that control vegetation with glyphosate.

The widely known insecticide brand Sevin has the active ingredient carbaryl. Carbaryl can be found in products from Bayer, Bonide, Southern Ag, Garden Tech, Gordan’s, and likely others. You’ll discover that often it won’t be called “Sevin,” yet when used at the same rate will yield the same results.

And don’t think organic products are any different. Neem oil contains the naturally occurring chemical compound azadirachtin. Azadirachtin, a substance extracted from neem seeds, is the primary insecticidal compound found in neem oil. Of course, neem oil products will contain azadirachtin, and you’ll find the concentration on the front label under Active Ingredients, but you will also find it in ‘AzaGuard’ and others.

If all this talk of pesticides makes your head spin, and you prefer not to use pesticides (organic or otherwise), focus on solid agricultural practices to minimize pests and the need for pesticides. Good plant health management focuses outside influences that improve growing conditions.

First, identify the right plant for the site. Use of natives (if possible) and well adapted plants goes a long way in having a successful crop, garden, or landscape. Second, use varieties that are resistant to common problems that you expect to have. If you have root knot nematodes, then chose a variety that is nematode resistant. When selecting fruit or pecan varieties, select ones that are proven adapted to your area.

Here in East Texas, our abundant rainfall and humidity can be a haven for fungal issues. Select disease resistant varieties every chance you get.

Lastly, practice strategies that help keep plants healthy and avoid insect and disease problems in the first place. Controlling weeds is a simple effort that keeps hosts of insects and disease away from the intended crop. Proper irrigation allows plants to flourish without stress and does not create an environment for fungal spores to multiply.

For those who do have a product that has worked well for you, study the label; learn what the active ingredient is. Armed with that crucial bit of information, you should be able to find other brand names with the same active ingredient. Doing this may enable you to find another brand name at a cheaper price. Lastly, properly changing active ingredients from time to time will not allow resistance to build up from your targeted pests.

– Cary Sims, county Extension agent, Texas A&M AgriLife

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