Introduction

In order for a new crop variety to be successful, it must have characteristics favorable to farmers.  This section of the research investigated under which conditions, in terms of yields, technology fees, and premiums, would lead to farmer adoption of HAP corn.  In addition, farmers were also asked about other traits they view as important and whether a GM or non-GM version would be preferred.

Methods

A survey was targeted towards corn farmers to assess the feasibility of farmer acceptance and adoption of HAP corn under different potential scenarios.  The last was essential since the research is an ex ante investigation of adoption, conducted prior to being certain what characteristics a finalized HAP corn may possess.  In order to understand which characteristics are most important to farmers in their decisions to adopt new seed varieties and thus help design the survey, a focus group was conducted.  The focus group consisted of grain farmers, crop scientists, and Cooperative Extension experts from various areas throughout Delaware in order to obtain a wide range of knowledge and opinions.

Using the information gained from the focus group and the experiences of the investigators, the survey was designed.  The main focus was on seed price, yield, and premium potential.  A unique conjoint design where farmers were asked to project adoption over the next three years for various possible HAP corn outcomes was used.  Other questions were used to judge if it mattered whether the HAP trait was the result of genetic modification or not. 

The mailing list was provided by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), an agency of the USDA.  The list provided by NASS included 1,902 Delmarva corn farmers after removing bad addresses and those who do not grow corn on the Delmarva Peninsula.  Timing of the survey was carefully planned to arrive during farmers’ non-busy season.  To aid response rate it was also kept as short as possible and had minimal need for farmers to check records to complete.  After the first mailing and reminder postcard, 740 usable surveys were returned, yielding a final response rate of 38.91%, which exceeded initial expectations.   Analysis of survey data was conducted using a Tobit regression model, including quadratic and two-way interaction terms, and corrected for heteroskedasticity.

Findings

Results indicated that an optimal HAP corn variety for farmers would have a low technology fee, a low yield drag, and a high harvest premium.  Assuming farmers do not incur financial losses, the study suggests that HAP corn adoption would increase over time.  However, in the hypothetical HAP corn scenarios farmers were less tolerant of negative aspects, such as technology fees and yield drag, as time progressed. 

The study also found that certain groups of farmers, such as those with high soil phosphorus levels, may be more inclined to adopt HAP corn.  This higher willingness to pay for HAP corn sometimes manifested itself as a higher tolerance for negative characteristics.  Farmers with lower levels of education were less sensitive to increases in HAP technology fees and yield drags.  Older farmers also appeared to be more tolerant of yield drags associated with HAP corn.  Aside from differences in adoption resulting from the underlying characteristics of HAP corn, the farmers’ adoption of HAP corn seemed to be affected by the farm size, the portion of farm income from corn, and the use of a computer for financial management.  

There are, of course, some aspects of development and management that could improve the ease of adaptation to HAP corn.  Ideally HAP corn would not require any specialized management, such as on farm storage or segregation, but this is doubtful since it is a nutritionally beneficial product.  Segregation would likely deter many farmers from purchasing HAP corn unless markets offered a very large premium.  Therefore, Delmarva grain handlers should develop an efficient way to segregate corn which does not greatly inconvenience farmers.  This may require handlers to update processing equipment or to purchase additional storage bins.  Another option is to dedicate certain locations or days to accept HAP corn at grain handling facilities.  Fortunately, the precautionary measures taken to avoid contamination of non-GM foods should not be necessary in segregating HAP corn.

For HAP corn to be successful it should also be available in combination with other value added traits, such as YieldGard Corn Borer and RoundupReady.  The results indicated that the average Delmarva corn farmer would not be opposed to a GM version of HAP corn.  In fact, farmers may prefer a GM version if it meant they would not have to compromise good agronomic characteristics for the benefits of HAP corn.  While the corn growers do have some reservations, overall they appeared concerned about the environment and willing to do their part in reducing pollution.

Implications

The poultry industry and the grain farmers working with it on the Delmarva Peninsula will be the primary beneficiaries.  These two groups make up the majority of agricultural activity and receipts in the area.  Local poultry companies employ over thirteen thousand people and produce more than 567 million chickens per year, or over 6% of the US total.  Meeting the demand for corn and soybeans to feed these chickens is the main focus of many of the region’s farmers.  Helping find a solution to phosphorus pollution concerns stemming from this system will thus aid a substantial number of participants.  These benefits, importantly, would not go to only a small set within the system.  For farmers, potential benefits should be consistent regardless of their scale of operation, length of time farming, or minority status.

Members of the swine industry should also benefit from this study.  As noted earlier, using HAP as a feed ingredient in this sector should yield similar results in terms of reducing phosphorus pollution.  Potential regional differences would need to be examined, but the farmer findings in particular should be highly applicable.

Answers here will also be beneficial to biotechnology research companies by helping them more clearly focus research and development.  The encouraging aspect of interest in products with environmental benefits should indicate a promising future market.  This information is of great importance in a field where successful creation of a new GM crop is an expensive undertaking, and understanding here will aid efficiency in effort.  The lack of knowledge about their products, and underlying concerns expressed by many on the survey should additionally point to the need for better education and marketing.