In a comprehensive analysis of more than 1,500 field studies conducted over 20 years, an agricultural economist reports that neonicotinoid insecticides provided average yield increases ranging from 3.6 to 71.3 percent in eight major crops across North America. This research indicates the average yield benefit of using neonicotinoids far exceeds the cost of treatment and delivers a substantial economic return on investment to the farmer.

Studies recently conducted by AgInfomatics, LLC, examined the value neonicotinoids bring to agriculture, but were focused on benefits other than yield. Such benefits include lower direct costs, superior pest control, ease of use and importance to integrated pest management (IPM) programs. In the latest research, Dr. Paul Mitchell, AgInfomatics consultant and associate professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, investigated the overall yield benefits of neonicotinoids across eight major crops.

The research used a meta-analysis approach to assemble existing data from more than 1,500 field studies conducted over the period 1993 to 2014 in the following crops: corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, sorghum, canola, potato and tomato. The data for this study were collected from three primary sources: 1) published results in Arthropod Management Tests, 2) registrant databases of public efficacy experiments conducted by university researchers, and 3) published literature from peer-reviewed journals and other university reports. The scope of this research is significant, as many of the studies examined are not routinely available in published literature.

When compared to untreated controls, the research showed that neonicotinoids provided a substantial yield increase in all eight crops examined. With the exception of soybeans, all of the crops evaluated showed a double-digit percentage increase in yield when neonicotinoids were used. Yield benefits in commodity crops such as corn, cotton, wheat and sorghum averaged 16 to 20 percent, while canola had a larger benefit of almost 35 percent. Specialty crops averaged increases of 23 percent (tomatoes) and 71% percent (potatoes). In soybeans, which increased an average of 3.6 percent, the yield benefit exceeded $20 per acre based on today’s market prices – representing nearly a three-to-one return on investment to the grower.

The research also compared neonicotinoids with non-neonicotinoid insecticides. Although the relative benefits were smaller than those compared to untreated controls, average yields of most crops treated with neonicotinoids were generally higher than those treated with other insecticides. In corn, canola, wheat, sorghum and potato comparisons, these differences were statistically significant.

Yield is one of many factors that growers evaluate when developing their pest management practices. Recent research conducted by AgInfomatics has shown that neonicotinoids provide farmers with many significant benefits. This study clearly demonstrates that these products deliver substantial yield benefits to growers across a variety of commodity and specialty crops, which helps explain why they have become a mainstay of modern agriculture.