July 13, 2020

Survey queries farmers on pesticide use, environmental concerns

CARIBOU — A University of Maine graduate student is surveying potato farmers on how much they are willing to pay to avoid using pesticides in an effort to protect the environment.

Rick Ziegler, a student in the ecology and environmental science program at the Orono campus, was at the annual Maine Potato Conference in Caribou this week to solicit farmers to participate in the survey. Ziegler, a Maryland native, will use the information for his master’s degree thesis on pest management.

Through the survey, Ziegler hopes to determine what farmers “would be willing to pay extra to protect the environment.”

While he hopes to survey as many of the industry’s farmers as possible, initial findings show that farmers don’t have much money to spare.

“In general, farmers aren’t willing to pay more,” said Ziegler, referring to his preliminary results.

What he is learning from talking to potato farmers is that the profit margin is too tight in this industry. Several farmers, however, are using diverse strategies, such as crop rotation, to do their part for the environment, Ziegler said.

In the survey, farmers are asked to rate what part of the environment, such as surface water, fish or human health, is the most or least important to them.

The survey also asked how much more growers would be willing to pay per acre to avoid risk to the environment. In addition, growers are asked to list what areas of their farming operation, such as satisfying buyers or preventing soil erosion, is most important in their opinion.

Ziegler hopes to write his thesis during the summer and present it during the fall semester. His paper will be available to the industry at that time, he said.

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