Date of Award

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Department

Community Development and Applied Economics

First Advisor

David S. Conner

Abstract

Changing weather patterns, the declining social fabric of rural communities, and economic uncertainty increasingly pose challenges to Vermont communities. The socially and environmentally embedded production practices within sustainable agriculture present a potential solution to these problems. In order to make the most of the potential benefits of these practices society must maximize their adoption. This requires an understanding of both farmer adoption of these practices and consumer perceptions of the resulting food products. This thesis contributes two original articles on sustainable agriculture through the analysis of factors driving both farmer adoption and consumer perceptions of products and practices often thought of as sustainable.

The first article seeks to understand farmer adoption of climate change best management practices (CCBMPs). Farmer perceptions of risk and profitability of best management practices (BMPs) are key determinants of adoption, which traditional incentive programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) attempt to address by providing financial and technical support. To ensure appropriate price points are offered through these programs, regional price structures must be based upon locally established costs. Thus, this article focuses on the economic cost of implementing and maintaining CCBMPs for twelve diverse farms in Vermont. Specifically, three CCBMPs for Vermont are examined: cover cropping, management intensive rotational grazing (MIRG), and riparian buffer strips. Results of a yearlong farmer based data collection process indicate that the average cost for cover cropping is $129.24/acre, for MIRG is $79.82/acre, and for a tree based riparian buffer strip is $807.33/acre. We conclude that existing incentive payments for cover cropping and MIRG are below costs, likely resulting in under-adoption.

The second article reports on a study which seeks to understand the factors influencing Vermont consumer perceptions of raw milk safety. While this article makes no assertion regarding the sustainability of raw milk, an association is established between the motivations for raw milk consumption and sustainable agriculture support. Vermonterâ??s appear to be continuing the trend of consuming raw milk at an increasing rate despite continued declarations from local and national public health officials that raw milk is too microbiologically dangerous to justify its consumption. Thus this study was designed to increase understanding of the factors driving consumer perceptions of raw milk safety. A conceptual model was developed to establish potential factors and related questions were incorporated into the 2014 Vermonter Poll. Resulting data were analyzed using a Probit regression analysis. We conclude that observable factors have the greatest influence on perceptions of raw milk safety. Specifically, perceived health benefits, presence of children in the household, and taste all influence perceptions of raw milk safety.

Language

en

Number of Pages

113 p.