Shelterbelts and “Clean Air Pork”
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By John Tyndall, Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management, Iowa State University
For some time now it has been suggested by Iowa State University (ISU) economists that the sustainability of industries within agriculture will be shaped by its collective ability to improve environmental impact technologies - this is particularly true in the case for swine odor mitigation technologies.
To that end, joint research from the ISU departments of Natural Resource Ecology and Management (NREM) and Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering suggests that when used appropriately, shelterbelts - linear arrangements of living tree barriers, can be cost-effective, biologically active buffers that can incrementally reduce odor and complement other odor control strategies used by producers.
It is, however, recognized that odor problems and odor mitigation is not just a simple physical issue; rather odor mitigation is a function of complex physical and social system interaction. At the very least it is a socio-technological issue which recognizes the importance of public input in the recommendation, use and acceptance of agricultural technologies. This view also recognizes that responsibility for odor mitigation need not rest solely on the shoulders of swine producers - there are other key players in the chain of pork production, not least of who are the consumers of pork products. Previous research at ISU has suggested that some pork consumers accept partial responsibility in environmental issues and exhibit an interest in purchasing labeled pork that came from farms that did “extra” management to protect air quality.
NREM researchers have surveyed pork consumers and producers in three different states - Iowa, North Carolina and Washington– to examine attitudes regarding market-based incentives for odor control and producer/consumer values regarding odor management in general, odor management specifically involving the use of shelterbelts, and the production and marketing of “Clean Air Pork” (CAP.)
The “Clean Air Pork” System
The various surveys were instrumental in identifying the key elements in a “Clean Air Pork” system. Figure 1 helps visualize what this system “looks” like and how the various elements interact - only factors that have a statistical significance are shown.
For pork producers, across all three states, the mean willingness to pay (WTP) for planting and maintaining shelterbelts (for incremental hog odor mitigation) is $0.14/hog produced. However there are details that help explain how producers differ in their WTP. As Figure 1 shows, smaller producers are more likely to pay for shelterbelts and pay more for them. Not surprisingly, producers who have more concerns about the management and efficacy of shelterbelts are less likely to pay for them. Additionally, producers who have facilities close to neighbors (1 mile or less) are more likely to pay for shelterbelts and pay more for them, perhaps suggesting a desire to be a “good neighbor”.
Overall, across all three states 51 percent of the producers (37 percent in Iowa) are interested to very interested in producing “Clean Air Pork” as long as the prices received covered additional odor management costs. Looking closely at what kind of producers might be willing to participate in growing and marketing “Clean Air Pork” again the size of the farm matters with smaller producers (marketing less than 5000 head/ year) more likely to be interested. Interestingly, mixed farms - producing both crops and livestock - are more likely to participate in such a market. And between the two largest hog producing states, Iowa producers are far more interested in this type of market than North Carolina producers. A key component of this system is also that producers who are interested in producing such a differentiated pork product believe that contract arrangement with either packers or, if the producer is a contract feed operation, the owner of the hogs.
Examining pork consumers, the surveys revealed that the maximum mean willingness to pay was $0.14/pound of pork meat purchased.When looking at pork consumers across all three states who are willing to pay for labeled “Clean Air Pork”, a number of interesting factors were discovered. Overall, consumers who have strong concerns for rural air and water quality are more likely to buy CAP and are more likely to pay more on a per pound of pork meat basis. Consumers who are more aware of farming issues in general are highly interested in such a pork product. Those consumers who have in the past made purchases (of any kind, not necessarily food) based partly on environmental reasons are more likely to buy and pay more for CAP. However, those who buy organic or natural pork showed no more interest than those who don’t. Consumers across all three states had clear preferences for odor mitigation technology that was considered more “natural” (examples include the filtration of odors through organic based bio-filters and the use of shelterbelts) as opposed to methods that were considered more mechanical or chemical (e.g. chemical scrubbers on vent outlets). And those consumers who had the highest appreciation of shelterbelts for odor mitigation also expressed higher WTP for “Clean Air Pork”. Other important factors are whether or not consumers have strong trust in pork industry associations
Government involvement is implicitly suggested through producer approval of cost share programs for the planting of shelterbelts and through consumer general trust in the USDA in regulating possible labeling of a “Clean Air Pork” product.
Results indicate that there are pork consumers who are likely to pay more for meat originating from farms with higher air quality management. Moreover, consumers indicate a preference for the “natural look and feel” of shelterbelts (trees) relative to other bio-chemical-mechanical odor control technologies. It seems that pork producers and consumers agree that shelterbelts can and should play a role in mitigating swine odor. Some pork producers are willing to explore new ways to capture the extra money that consumers are seemingly willing to spend for “clean air pork” through innovative marketing strategies while others simply value the addition of shelterbelts to farms. Shelterbelts should provide a suite of benefits for the pork industry, producer, consumer, and communities. Ultimately, the results of this research will support cooperative approaches to solving odor problems that include natural odor control strategies, and help to sustain two vitally important parts of agriculture – pork production and rural communities.
For more information please contact:
Department of Natural Resource Ecology and Management
Iowa State University