Overview

This site reports on results of a grant funded by the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). The focus of the project was to look at the market potential for high available phosphorus (HAP) corn.  HAP corn, which is under development, would be used as feed for chickens in an attempt to reduce phosphorus pollution. The research consisted of two parts.  The first part was an examination of consumer interest in purchasing chicken fed HAP corn.  The second was an investigation of farmer interest in adopting HAP corn.  This page covers some of the background and basics of the issues while the other two pages contains the specifics of the indiviidual parts.  An analysis of the results is ongoing and further information and publication links will be added as they are generated.

Background

Nutrient pollution of streams, rivers, bays, and ground water is an important environmental concern.  Phosphorus pollution in particular is a problem in many areas of the US.  The result is excess algae growth, large swings in bacterial populations, eutrification, decreased dissolved oxygen levels, and ultimately, degraded water quality and biological resources and declining fish populations.  These lead to additional economic impacts such as decreased fishing and tourism.

There are many causes of phosphorus pollution, including sewage, urban storm water, forests, and agricultural sources both from artificial fertilizer applications and manure.  The focus here was on phosphorus pollution from agricultural operations and on means to reduce the problem.  Specifically, phosphorus originating from fertilizer usage has been identified as a key factor in nonpoint source pollution.  Rain induced runoff from land with excessive fertilizer and manure leads to over-enrichment of ground water, streams, and estuaries.

In Southern Delaware there is a large and highly concentrated poultry industry.  Field crops, such as corn and soybeans, dominate the cultivated farm acreage in the area due to the influence of the poultry industry.  The combination of field-crop agriculture and animal-based agriculture in Southern Delaware has contributed to high phosphorus levels in soils.  As a result, nutrient pollution is an immediate concern to the Inland Bays and Chesapeake Bay as well as other regional streams and rivers.

In response to this problem, the state enacted the Delaware Nutrient Management Law in 1999.  Nutrient management practices include, for example, proper timing and methods of fertilizer (commercial and manure) application, planting of cover crops and vegetative buffer strips, and erosion control.  As a result of mandatory nutrient management, many farmers have adopted a phosphorus-limiting nutrient planning program.  Instead of using the readily available chicken manure, farmers are applying more expensive nitrogen only sources of fertilizer, e.g., ammonia or urea.  Another result is the poultry industry’s use of expensive manure disposal outlets.  Costs of current solutions to the phosphorus issue are thus high.

The possible solution examined here is in feeding poultry a new variety of corn containing the enzyme phytase.  Phytase would allow for increased phosphorus conversion efficiency, reducing the need for additions to the feed, and thus reducing the ratio of phosphorus in the elimination process.  This reduces the phosphorus level in the manure, changing the ratio to allow farmers to decrease the amount of nitrogen only sources of fertilizer without worrying about over application of phosphorus and thus reduce input costs.  The development and use of high phytase feed corn would therefore help reduce the phosphorus mass balance.

This corn, referred to as high available phosphorus (HAP) corn, does not yet exist as a marketable product.  The current version has a yield reduction compared to other corn seed as it was modified from a lower yielding cultivar.  However, this should be correctable in future generations through either traditional methods or the use of genetic engineering.  This study examined the potential adoption of HAP corn by farmers and marketing of poultry raised on the feed as beneficial to the environment to consumers.  The methodology involved surveys of consumers and corn farmers across the Delmarva region.  Implications include better environmental conditions and cost efficient use of poultry manure.

The overall objective of this research is therefore to examine the market potential for HAP corn.  The specific goals for accomplishing this objective were to determine:

1. Consumer willingness to purchase chickens fed HAP corn, including if they would be willing to pay a premium for the environmental benefit.

2. Combinations of attributes, such as seed price, yields, and possible crop premiums that farmers would desire in order to adopt HAP corn.

3. If adoption and acceptance of HAP would depend on whether the variety was genetically modified.

Implications

The primary benefit of this study was the determination that, under the conditions discovered, HAP corn could be a successful product both in terms of farmer adoption and consumer acceptance.  Both sides expressed serious concerns regarding the problems from phosphorus pollution and interest in assisting with a solution.  Being able to do so in a fashion in which all market participants are satisfied would be an important improvement over existing and more costly methods.

The immediate benefit would be in guiding seed developers as their work continues on a marketable version of HAP corn.  This would include the recommendations that the effort to create a non-GM version may aid consumer acceptance, but is not necessary for the farmer, while poor yields and the lack of standard accepted traits would likely prevent large-scale farmer adoption.  From there, the discovery of consumer interest in aiding the environment through their chicken purchases will great assist marketers and food companies.

The greatest future benefit would be that HAP corn is developed, adopted, and marketed under the findings here and becomes a useful tool to combat phosphorus pollution in the Delmarva region and perhaps beyond.  While agriculture is only one source of this problem, the reduction would aid waterways and reduce economic implications.

Future Research

A couple of appropriate avenues exist for further research.  First would be to examine acceptance issues on the poultry industry side.  Since broiler integrators make decisions on feed, their say may have an impact on success and usage of HAP corn varieties.  A second extension would be to investigate the interest in HAP corn in other regions and as potential feed for other livestock, particularly swine.  Phosphorus pollution concerns are not unique to the Delmarva region and the development of an acceptable variety of HAP corn may aid other areas of the country.