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Dairy Producers' Perception of MAEAP Benefits by Stage of MAEAP Participation

Abdullahi Abdulkadri, Steven Miller, Sandra S. Batie, Satish Joshi
Center for Economic Analysis, Dept. of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics


Introduction
In the January 2009 issue of the Michigan Dairy Review, we presented results of a pilot survey of Michigan livestock producers who were verified under the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP) (Abdulkadri et al., 2009). In that article, we indicated that dairy producers were equally motivated as other livestock producers to participate in MAEAP, but those dairy producers who were MAEAP-verified regarded MAEAP to be more beneficial to their operations than other livestock producers who were MAEAP-verified.  Since the pilot survey was conducted, two follow-up surveys of livestock producers in Michigan were conducted. The target population for each of these latter surveys was livestock producers who had participated in a MAEAP Phase 1 Educational Event and the general population of Michigan livestock producers. The current article compares the perception of three different groups of Michigan dairy producers about the benefits of MAEAP. It also provides a comparison of the perception of MAEAP benefits by the different groups of dairy producers, in relation to their non-dairy counterpart. Our findings provide insights to expectations of producers about MAEAP, depending on their participation status, and benefits derived from MAEAP, based on their stage of participation. Additionally, by viewing producers’ perceptions across those who have never participated in MAEAP, those who participated but did not become verified, and those who have become verified provides a much broader perspective of how Michigan livestock producers view MAEAP. 

Surveys of Michigan Livestock Producers
Three different surveys of livestock producers in Michigan were undertaken as part of an Animal Agriculture Initiate (AAI) and Elton R. Smith Endowment funded study on the motivation, barriers and incentives for the participation of livestock operations in MAEAP (Miller et al., 2011). The first survey was carried out in the summer of 2008 among MAEAP-verified producers. This survey was replicated and administered in February 2010 to a sample of the general population of Michigan livestock producers drawn from the Michigan National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) database.  Another replicate of the survey, administered in June 2010, was sent to livestock producers who had participated in at least one MAEAP Phase 1 Educational Event. The response rate for the three surveys was 49%, 21% and 24%, respectively; yielding sample sizes of 95 MAEAP-verified livestock producers from the first survey, 288 producers from the general population, and 64 producers from the Phase 1 Educational Event attendees. 

To ensure that the categories of livestock producers being compared in our analysis are distinct, we eliminated from further analysis any producer in the general population who indicated that they had attended a Phase 1 Educational Event or that they were MAEAP-verified. We also removed from the sample any producer who indicated that they were unfamiliar with MAEAP or had not heard of MAEAP. These steps ensured that the general population group of producers consisted only of livestock producers who were familiar with MAEAP but had never participated in MAEAP.  In a similar manner, we eliminated producers from the Phase 1 Educational Event attendee group survey who indicated that they were verified or who, although participated in an event, were unaware that it was a MAEAP event. This ensured that only those producers who had participated consciously in a MAEAP Phase 1 Educational Event but were not MAEAP verified were included in this group for the purpose of analysis.  Therefore, the three distinct groups of livestock producers compared in the study are (1) MAEAP-verified (n = 95), (2) Phase 1 Educational Event attendee (n = 22) and (3) Non-MAEAP (n = 97) livestock producers, resulting in a total sample size of 214. 

Analysis of Data
Data analysis was organized around three major themes covered in the survey. These are: (1) motivation for MAEAP participation, (2) short-term benefits of MAEAP and (3) long-term benefits of MAEAP. The percentage of respondents who indicated that certain factors are important or very important in their decision to participate in MAEAP or that they agreed or strongly agreed with statements about the benefits of MAEAP were examined. The responses are graphed by the three groups of producers to facilitate comparison. However, due to the small sample size of the Phase 1 Educational Event attendee group when categorized into dairy and non-dairy (other livestock) producers, statistical tests of differences of proportions were done only for the MAEAP-verified and non-MAEAP groups. 

 

Results of MAEAP Surveys
As was reported in an earlier study (Abdulkadri et al., 2009), livestock producers were asked to rate the following factors in terms of how important they are in their decision to participate in MAEAP. 

  • Ensuring that my farm attains environmental standards for future generations
  • Desire to farm in an environmentally-friendly manner
  • Conforming to current regulatory standards so farm can remain in agriculture for the future
  • Prefer to be involved in a voluntary program now rather than wait for potential future regulations
  • Neighborhood concerns or pressure

 

For both dairy and non-dairy producers, the proportion of MAEAP-verified producers who indicated that each of the above-listed factors is important or very important in their decision to participate in MAEAP was higher than those that only attended a Phase 1 Educational Event. This suggests that those that do pursue and accomplish MAEAP verification are more responsive to the above-listed factors, though we cannot infer causation from this finding. However, there was one exception. Non-dairy producers that attended a Phase 1 Educational event were more likely than MAEAP-verified producers to place neighborhood concerns or pressure as a factor in their choice to participate in MAEAP.

Additionally, respondents were asked to rate benefits they receive or perceive they would receive by being MAEAP-verified. Respondents of all three surveys were presented with the following statements, categorized as either short-term or long-term potential benefits of MAEAP:

Short-term Benefits

  • MAEAP reduces my liability if there is an environmental accident on my farm
  • The benefits of MAEAP participation exceed the costs for my farm
  • MAEAP participation will allow me to be responsive to changes in the market for livestock products dictated by environmental concerns
  • MAEAP participation is helping me to differentiate or brand my products in the marketplace

Long-term Benefits

  • Due to my participation in MAEAP, I have made changes to my livestock operation that protect the environment
  • Due to my involvement in MAEAP, I can better manage my farm for environmental and regulatory matters
  • By being a MAEAP participant, I will be more prepared for any future regulatory changes
  • The existence of MAEAP may help preempt future regulation of livestock producers

The proportions of respondents in each group of producers who indicated that they agreed or strongly agreed with the statements are presented in Figure 1 for the short-term benefits and in Figure 2 for the long-term benefits. It should be noted that in Figure 2 the first two statements on the long-term benefits of MAEAP are not applicable to non-MAEAP producers.

From the results presented in these figures, it is clear that, in general, MAEAP-verified and Phase I program attendees perceived relatively greater benefits to MAEAP participation in both the short- and long-run compared to those that have not participated in MAEAP. This pattern is observed for both dairy producers and non-dairy producers.  However, non-dairy producers were slightly more likely to suggest that MAEAP verification increases their responsiveness to market change dictated by environmental concerns. Compared to other benefits, all groups displayed lower confidence that MAEAP verification helps differentiate their products, which may be because most producers do not directly market to consumers.

Comparing results across Figures 1 and 2 suggests that there was relatively greater agreement among groups of producers on long-term benefits of MAEAP than short-term benefits. In most cases, those that had completed verification indicated greater perceptions of long-term benefits. Non-dairy producers displayed slightly lower confidence in long-term benefits compared to dairy producers. Most glaringly, those participating in MAEAP showed confidence that MAEAP contributes to their preparedness for future environmental regulation and that MAEAP is an effective institution for preempting future regulation. 

Figure 1 shows that both dairy and non-dairy producers have similar perceptions of short-term benefits to their operations.  Among the findings, those that have participated in MAEAP either through verification or by attending MAEAP educational sessions indicated a greater belief that MAEAP verification reduces their liability if an environmental accident were to occur on their farm. It is interesting to note that these perceptions of producers that are MAEAP-verified are tempered relative to those that have been exposed to MAEAP through educational sessions, but have not gone through the verification process. Similarly, most verified dairy and non-dairy producers indicated a belief that MAEAP enhances their responsiveness to future changes dictated by environmental concerns, while a large percentage of Phase 1 respondents felt the same.  Although only a few suggested that MAEAP affords a means to differentiate their product, a significant proportion viewed the benefits of MAEAP to outweigh the costs.  This finding is more significant for those that have completed verification. 

Figure 1: Short-term Benefits of MAEAP by Category of Livestock Producers
maeap

In contrast to short-term benefits of MAEAP verification, both dairy and non-dairy producers indicated greater confidence in long-term benefits of MAEAP. Figure 2 shows the outcomes of perceptions of the long-term benefits of MAEAP.  As noted earlier, the first two statements on the long-term benefits of MAEAP do not apply to non-MAEAP producers, hence, they are not reflected on Figure 2 for this group. 

Figure 2: Long-term Benefits of MAEAP by Category of Livestock Producers
maeap2

MAEAP-verified dairy producers showed overwhelming agreement that MAEAP verification induced changes in their practices that protect the environment and that verification improved their management of their operations for environmental and regulatory matters. The significance is not limited to dairy producers or to those that have completed verification as non-dairy producers. Those who have participated in Phase 1 events also showed significant agreement. Furthermore, though most MAEAP participants agreed that MAEAP did or would help them prepare for future environmental regulation, non-MAEAP participants indicated significant reservation with this statement.  Finally, MAEAP-verified dairy producers indicated a higher level of agreement that MAEAP participation will preempt future environmental regulation than MAEAP-verified non-dairy producers. For Phase 1 attendees, non-dairy producers were more likely to view MAEAP verification as preempting future regulation compared to those that are dairy producers.  Regardless, non-MAEAP respondents showed less confidence that participation will preempt future regulations. 

In the previous article (Abdulkadri et al., 2009), we reported that MAEAP-verified dairy producers tend to have greater confidence in long-term benefits than their non-dairy counterparts. The current article adds responses of non-MAEAP verified producers that may or may not have participated in at least one Phase 1 educational session. Where the 2009 study revealed statistically significant variation between dairy and non-dairy producers, tests of variation across MAEAP-verified and non-MAEAP-verified producers in the current study do not reveal statistically significant difference. The findings suggest that variation in perceived benefits by groups of producers differentiated by their MAEAP participation status is not as pronounced as variation between dairy and non-dairy producers. Despite the lack of statistical significance, there appears to be some differences in perceived benefits by level of participation. Namely, those producers who participated in MAEAP, either through verification or by attending MAEAP educational sessions, were more likely to anticipate long- and short-term benefits relative to non-MAEAP producers. However, whether this suggests that participation in MAEAP sets perceptions of benefits or that individuals self-select to participate in MAEAP based on their prior participation cannot be inferred.  

Discussion
Combining data from the three surveys has enabled us to compare the differences in perceived benefits of MAEAP program participation among three groups of livestock producers. When considering the statements about short-term benefits, higher proportions of MAEAP-verified producers than non-MAEAP producers indicated agreement or strong agreement with the benefits. MAEAP-verified producers and those that have attended a MAEAP Phase I educational event were more likely to indicate real benefits of MAEAP participation.

The relatively low scores for the non-participants suggest that participation in MAEAP education events and verification process may increase the awareness about the various benefits of the program. However, data from this study may be reflecting self-selection into the program wherein those with higher expectations of outcomes are more likely to participate. Regardless, those that have attended a Phase 1 Educational Event tend to have a more positive expectation of MAEAP benefits and those that have completed verification, in many cases, temper that expectation. 

The above interpretation of the results assumes that the surveys represent dynamic changes in attitudes of producers as they move from non-participation to participation in MAEAP education event, on to MAEAP verification. However, since the surveys did not track the same set of producers through the process, the results may also be open to alternative explanations. For example, it is possible that only the producers that already had positive beliefs about the benefits of MAEAP participated in the program and the participation only confirmed those beliefs. The results are consistent with this alternative explanation. Truth also may be a combination of these two causal mechanisms.  Additional study is required to isolate these effects.

Conclusions
Our findings in this study indicate that the three groups of producers surveyed have differing attitudes or perceptions toward both short- and long-term benefits of MAEAP.  Higher proportions of dairy producers than non-dairy producers indicated beneficial effects of MAEAP. Those dairy producers that have completed MAEAP verification largely recognized that benefits of verification exceed the costs, while the perspective of those that have only participated in a MAEAP Educational event tended to be more reserved.  In addition, higher proportions of MAEAP-verified producers than non-MAEAP producers indicated beneficial effects of MAEAP, except for the short-term benefit of differentiating products in the market place where a lower proportion of MAEAP-verified than non-MAEAP producers suggested that MAEAP participation is helpful in differentiating products. 

This study has established that some dairy producers perceived benefits from MAEAP beyond the presumptive benefit of pre-empting future regulation. Our findings point to the fact that irrespective of the discontinuation of the provision that allows for the substitution of MAEAP-verification for a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ)/National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), producers who participate in MAEAP derive benefits (perceived or actual) beyond those related to regulation.  However, our findings indicate that producers do not perceive that MAEAP is offering them the benefit of differentiating their products in the market. 

Acknowledgements
This study was partly funded by the Elton R. Smith Endowment in the MSU Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics and the Animal Agriculture Initiate (AAI) of MSU. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on an earlier draft of this article.

References
Abdulkadri, A., S. Miller, S. Batie, and S. Joshi, 2009.  Environmental Stewardship of Dairy Producers in MAEAP.  Michigan Dairy Review 14(1):10-12. January 2009.
Miller, S., A. Abdulkadri, S. Batie, and S. Joshi, 2011.  Motivation, Barriers and Incentives for the Participation of Livestock Operations in MAEAP.  Final Project Report Submitted to The Animal Agriculture Initiative (AAI), Michigan State University.
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