Feedlot Ammonia (NH3) BMP Adoption: Barriers and Opportunities

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Gaseous ammonia emissions from feedlot operations pose serious risks to human and ecosystem health. In particular, nitrogen deposition in Colorado‟s Rocky Mountain National Park may be associated with livestock feeding in the western Corn Belt and Colorado. Feedlot operators can implement a variety of Best Management Practices (BMPs) to reduce ammonia emissions. These BMPs vary in effectiveness, simplicity, managerial time, effort and financial capital. Although the ammonia-mitigating potential of various BMPs is well-researched, little research examines the barriers that prevent feedlot operations from adopting these BMPs.

What Did We Do?

To learn more about these barriers, a questionnaire was mailed to 1,998 dairy and feedlot producers in June 2007. Survey responses (overall response rate of 7.6% for feedlots and dairies) allow determination of current levels of BMP adoption as well as producer perceptions of the environmental impact and economic feasibility of each BMP.  This research uses discrete choice modeling to evaluate factors influencing adoption for the average producer as well as subsets of producers.

What Have We Learned?

Of the thirteen BMPs surveyed, six of the BMPs had adoption rates greater than 50%, indicating sizeable overall adoption levels. Probit analysis enables estimation of the conditional probability of adoption given a set of attributes. Hiring a nutritionist, incorporating manure within 48 hours, collecting runoff from drylots and testing for nutrients are practices most amenable to large operations. These practices range from 50-75% adoption rates, indicating potential for increased adoption.  The perception of high cost seems to limit the adoption of hiring a nutritionist, especially for small producers who are unable to distribute the high fixed cost across as many animals.  A perception of technical expertise decreases the probability of testing manure and compost for nutrients, as well as for performing yearly soil tests.  The technical expertise constraint particularly impacts smaller producers for testing manure and compost, while it persists across all sizes for conducting yearly soil tests.  Both providing bedding in pens and shade in drylots (require less technical assistance than the average practice. This result, combined with the negative relationship between adoption and size indicates they are better suited for adoption by smaller operations, as well as operations where the feedlot represents the principal revenue stream

Future Plans

This study aimed to provide outreach professionals with a profile of ammonia BMP adoptees and factors influencing adoption decisions, based on findings from the survey sample. Two principal limitations characterized these findings. First, the low response rate limited the ability to generalize to the population of feedlot operators. Further research needs to improve the response rate, identifying issues that hindered operator participation. Potential reasons include the length of the survey and the sensitive political nature of ammonia emissions. Furthermore, dairy operations play a key role in managing ammonia emissions, yet the survey response rate for dairy operators was prohibitively low, preventing an empirical analysis similar to the feedlot analysis. This low response rate can likely be attributed to lower overall numbers of dairy operations, as well as reluctance to participate for unknown reasons. Our intention is to repeat the survey effort with an improved elicitation method, but also to update BP’s to those that are part of the feasible set of adoption by producers.


James Pritchett, Associate ProfessorDepartment of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Colorado State University  james.pritchett@colostate.edu

Carolyn Davidson, Economic Analyst, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Nicole Embertson, Science and Planning Coordinator, Whatcom Conservation District

Jessica Davis, Professor and Director for the Institute for Livestock and the Environment, Colorado State University

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