Are Consumers Willing to Pay More for Low-Input Turfgrasses on Residential Lawns? Evidence from Choice Experiments

Article excerpt

A choice experiment with real products was used to investigate consumer willingness to pay (WTP) for several low-input attributes of turfgrasses. The choice scenarios consisted of turfgrass plots, which varied in aesthetic quality characteristics and were labeled with differing levels of maintenance requirements (irrigation, fertilizer, etc.), shade adaptation, origin, and price. A mixed logit model was used to analyze the choice data and estimate consumer WTP. Our results suggest that low-input maintenance attributes significantly influence consumer choice behavior and identify a strong consumer preference for reduced irrigation and mowing requirements. The introduction of low-input turfgrasses could be a viable strategy for reducing the maintenance inputs and costs for residential lawn care.

Key Words: willingness to pay, choice experiment, low-input, home lawn, irrigation, mowing frequency, fertility requirement

JEL Classifications: Q13, Q58

Widespread urban development has led to substantial growth in lawn acreage and the subsequent increase in the amount of resource inputs (fertilizer, water, etc.) used for residential turfgrass management (Alig, Kline, and Lichtenstein, 2004). Fresh water conservation is a universal issue, and in the United States, turfgrass covers an area larger than that of any irrigated crop (Milesi et al., 2005). In addition to the impact of water use for irrigation, concerns have also arisen about the potential negative impacts of turfgrass management practices on the environment and human health such as the risks of pesticide exposure and fertilizer runoff (Milesi et al., 2005; Robbins and Brikenholtz, 2003; Robbins and Sharp, 2003). These concerns have prompted regulations on urban lawn care practices. A few examples of such regulations are statewide restrictions on the use of fertilizers containing phosphorous on home lawns (State of Minnesota, 2010; State of Wisconsin, 2011), pesticide bans on home lawns in numerous municipalities and provinces of Canada (Government of Quebec, 2006), and municipal water regulations (Boer and Ripp, 2008; MassDEP, 2010).

Despite potential drawbacks, healthy residential lawns provide important environmental benefits such as urban heat dissipation, water quality protection, erosion control, and carbon sequestration as well as functional and aesthetic benefits to society (Beard and Green, 1994; Krenitsky et al., 1998; McPherson, Simpson, and Livingston, 1989; Quian, Follett, and Kimble, 2010). One potential strategy to reduce resource inputs without sacrificing the environmental and societal benefits provided by turfgrass is to use nontraditional, alternative grass species better adapted to low-maintenance conditions or lowinput turfgrasses. Over the past few decades researchers have identified and developed alternative grass species suited for lowmaintenance sites (Brilman and Watkins, 2003; Duncan, 2003; Engelke and Anderson, 2003; Hanna and Liu, 2003; Riordan and Browning, 2003; Ruemmele et al., 2003). There has also been interest in developing turfgrass varieties from grass species that are native to North America. Native grasses have evolved in environmental conditions specific to North America for a longer period of time compared to introduced, non-native grasses, and they may be better adapted to low-maintenance conditions (Johnson, 2008). The use of lowinput turfgrass species on residential lawns could be a viable strategy to reduce the rising economic costs of maintenance inputs as well as satisfy public concerns about the environmental impacts of urban turfgrass management practices. Additionally, more stringent regulations on lawn care practices could further increase the demand for low-input turfgrasses.

Regardless of the advances in the development of low-input turfgrasses, production and availability remain limited across much of the United States. Several alternative, lowinput turfgrass species, for example, colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris L. …