For some, going green is like having your dream wedding: a great idea if someone else foots the bill. That’s a concern for researchers on the Efficient Dairy Genome Project led by Genome Alberta. In their quest to raise feed efficiency and lower methane emissions in dairy cows, they must also ask if producers are willing to pay more for greener cows. Answering that question is the job of GE3LS (Genomics and its Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal and Social Aspects), a required component of all Genome Alberta projects that considers issues at the intersection of genomics and society.
“My project focuses on whether dairy producers are prepared to adopt and willing to pay more for greener, feed efficient dairy cows,” said Katherine Jones, graduate student, who is working under Dr. Getu Hailu’s supervision in the Department of Food, Agricultural & Resource Economics at the University of Guelph.
Go for the goals
With feed costs comprising 40-50% of a dairy farmer’s expenses, and the average dairy cow emitting 130 kg of methane (or 3,250 kg CO2 equivalent) per year through its burps, reducing both numbers are worthy goals. Through a survey sent to 5700 dairy producers across Canada and returned by 480 of them, Jones sought to determine if the end user would foot the bill to achieve those goals.
Though the traits of feed efficiency and reduced methane emission are biologically linked, the survey separated them. It then gave respondents a hypothetical situation with a number of options, asking how much extra they would pay in each case.
“Predictably, we found that those who answered would pay an average premium of $14.25 for a straw of AI with just the feed efficiency trait, compared to $0 or close to it for just reduced methane emission. Where it got really interesting is when we asked about a straw with both traits, as producers were willing to pay around $17.00 for the combination. This is a situation where the farmer is getting the private financial benefits of lower feed costs and simultaneously feeling a ‘warm glow’ that comes from reducing their environmental impact, so they are giving something and getting something.”
In summary, researchers found a willingness to pay for the feed efficiency trait, a reluctance to pay for the reduced methane emission trait alone and an inclination to pay more for both traits together than feed efficiency alone.
Under the influence
“We also looked at what influenced a respondent’s readiness to pay. We controlled for a number of variables including age, herd size, location, previous experience, risk tolerance and number of social interactions. Through all of that, we found the main variable that affected willingness was a belief in using genomics. The higher they rated their positive view of genomics on a scale of 1-7, the more inclined they were to absorb the cost for feed efficiency alone, methane emissions alone and the two combined.”
As well, Jones had producers rate their level of environmental concern about their herd's greenhouse gas emissions on a 4 point scale that included “not at all concerned”, “a little concerned”, “somewhat concerned” and “very concerned”. She found that the level of concern had a significant positive impact on their inclination to pay for either trait by itself or both of them together.
In asking some pointed questions, Jones felt they generated some important findings for the Efficient Dairy Genome Project.
“As we promote the use of genomic selection for feed efficiency and focus on the financial benefits for farmers, we should also emphasize the additional environmental benefit to adoption, as that does strike a chord with some producers.”
Whether you’re going green or planning a dream wedding, striking the right chord should create a harmonic future for all concerned.