Consumers smell with their eyes as well as their noses. If they drive past your operation and don't see or smell a problem, they'll assume the best, instead of the worst.

The same holds true when consumers know that pork products were produced in an environmentally friendly manner. According to an Iowa State University study, consumers will pay an additional 94 cents per two-pound package of America's Cut pork chops if it was produced with technologies that reduce odors, ground-water and surface-water pollution. If you break it down for odor and surface water only, consumers say they'd pay an additional 41 cents per package, or 31 cents a package for odor and groundwater attributes.

"The results clearly show that the environment, water and air quality, and pollution are important issues to consumers," says Jim Kliebenstein, Iowa State economist. " These ranked higher than such issues as food prices, production methods, animal welfare and the structure of agriculture." In the study, Consumer Attitudes Toward Manure Storage, Handling and Application Methods, co-authored by Kliebenstein and Sean Hurley, the researchers polled 329 consumers from across the country. The study looked at different sectors of society, from those directly affected by environmental issues from pork production to those less impacted.

One big surprise was that there were no significant perception differences from people living in Iowa compared to those in Vermont. "Initially, we thought that people living closer to major livestock areas were more familiar with manure management issues," notes Kliebenstein. "Therefore, they would be more willing to pay for pork products produced with environmentally friendly attributes."

As it turns out, this wasn't the case. Consumers from all areas of the country had similar perceptions regarding manure anagement issues in pork production, and researchers don't have an answer to this line of thinking.
The public is becoming more concerned about livestock production and its potential environmental impacts, says Kliebenstein. Eight out of 10 participants have concerns about this, as well as the worker and livestock environment. He contends that pork producers in general are good environmental stewards."

Regulations aren't put into place for 95 percent of the industry; it's to curtail the activity of those that might not be good citizens," he says.

"Many times producers perceive regulations as bad, especially since they can create problems for those that are good stewards." So, what's the survey's message? For starters, it shows there's a need to better inform consumers about manure management practices, including storage, handling and application methods. This can be done through your state and national producer organizations or at consumer functions, such as county and state fairs. Another option is to build the information into educational courses at your local schools and colleges. Students are the consumers of tomorrow, so it's important to educate them as early as possible.

Another issue underlying the need for education deals with manure injection. Research has shown time and again that injection is an effective way to get manure into the ground while avoiding runoff. But survey participants felt injection was significantly less acceptable than spreading and incorporating the manure.

"This tells me that consumer perceptions aren't in line with scientific evidence," says Kliebenstein. "Participants perceive that if you inject manure into the ground, it gets closer to the ground water, therefore making it less appealing than other management methods."

Another finding is that natural methods of air quality enhancement had much higher acceptance than chemical methods. This comes down to the importance of terminology. The terms, chemical and natural, each have significant meanings to the public. That's evident as 75 percent of survey respondents said natural was acceptable, while 10 percent said chemical was acceptable.

"This is nothing new," explains Kliebenstein. " These practices need to be described in terms that consumers are familiar with or they'll develop a negative attitude. It comes down to education, communication, promotion and advertising." The same trend is evident with hoop structure production facilities. About 65 percent of the respondents had no opinion on these structures because they didn't know what they were. So, if you want to use hoop structures to establish a niche based on the perceived welfare attributes, you also will need to inform the public about the system.

Opportunities exist to develop a niche market focused on environmental attributes that consumers are willing to pay for. " A lot of producers are already doing this, but not identifying it," notes Kliebenstein. For example, many of you already participate in the industry's Environmental Assurance Program and on-farm environmental audits but do you promote that fact? " In some regards, the industry is set up and ready to go," he says. Now, you need to find a way to benefit from that work. You can start by using the resources available and market to customers throughout the food chain.

"If the pork industry isn't careful, public perception may become extremely negative toward livestock production," contends Kliebenstein. He notes that a lot of survey respondents were unsure about technologies. About half of them had little or no opinion about different manure management technologies, such as injection, incorporation, as well as above- and below-ground storage systems. It's not going to take a lot of information to sway this group one way or another," he adds. "'No opinion' could easily swing to 'no acceptance'. It's important for the industry to work with consumers to make sure their acceptance is positive, instead of shifting toward the negative side of things."