Willingness to Pay for a Specialty Blend Compost Product Developed from Brown Seaweed Harvested from Coastal Regions in Texas
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Composting is the biological decomposition of organic materials, such as plant tissue, food scraps, paper, animal fodder, and wood chips. The end-product, compost, is a beneficial soil amendment because it can contain a diversity of beneficial microorganisms, has high nutrient and water-holding capacities, can increase total soil porosity, and contains essential plant nutrients that improve soil productivity. Coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Atlantic and European shorelines, have witnessed a proliferation of brown seaweed (Sargassum sp.). When piled on beaches, tourism appeal is reduced, threatening the local economy. When amassed offshore, thick brown seaweed mats can hinder fishing. Excessive decomposition rates can lead to eutrophication, which threatens coastal areas economically and environmentally. Despite these problems, seaweed may be considered a valuable compost ingredient. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to conduct a market test to determine the potential value of a seaweed-incorporated compost to consumers in Texas and to identify attributes of likely consumers. A marketing survey was developed and distributed to gardeners in the central and south Texas regions. Contingent valuation questions measured participants’ willingness to pay for the seaweed compost products. Participants were able to see, smell, and touch a sample of the compost while completing the survey. Despite 92% of respondents ranking themselves as inexperienced in compost behavior, results indicated a potential for a specialty, competitively priced seaweed-incorporated compost to be introduced to the market. Respondents were most willing to pay $4.00/ft3 to $5.00/ft3 for seaweed-incorporated compost. Additionally, participants who responded positively to buying local, buying compost in the past, having positive environmental attitudes, and buying American were more likely to pay more for the seaweed-incorporated compost. There was not an obvious pattern between willingness to pay for seaweed-incorporated compost and demographic responses.