Neonicotinoid insecticides are a class of insecticides that selectively act against piercing and sucking insect pests, such as aphids, which are a common pest of crops (Tomizawa and Casida, 2005). The class of insecticides includes imidacloprid, acetamiprid, clothianidin, thiamethoxam, thiacloprid, dinotegruan, and nitenpyram (Blacquiere et al., 2012). Neonicotinoids are commonly used for pest control in crops and are chosen because of their low mammalian toxicity and their systemic properties that provide long-term plant protection (Tomizawa and Casida, 2005). The potential role of neonicotinoid insecticides in colony collapse disorder (CCD) in honeybees (Apis mellifera) and bumblebees (Bombus spp.) (Blacquiere et al., 2012) has received widespread attention, despite the lack of evidence of higher pesticide residuals in bee hives with CCD compared with those without CCD (van Engelsdorp et al., 2009). The possible implication of these pesticides in the reduction of pollinator populations may put social and political pressure, previously unseen in the industry (Cullen et al., 2008), on retailers to reduce or eliminate the use of neonicotinoid insecticides on ornamental plants. Such pressure may even increase governmental restrictions on neonicotinoid insecticides in the United States similar to those that already exist in Europe, where three neonicotinoid insecticides were restricted by the European Union in 2013 (Copping, 2013).
This negative publicity may have heightened consumer awareness of pesticide use in the horticulture industry, which may increase demand for products that are pesticide-free. Firms use labeling and signage to represent the value of extrinsic characteristics (e.g., price, brand, etc.) to consumers, such as those seen in “grown local” marketing campaigns (Behe et al., 2013; Yue et al., 2011). Labeling plants with new or novel production methods, such as reduced pesticides, may be one strategy to add economic value and enhance product differentiation to charge a premium for floriculture products.
Some consumers may value reduced pesticide usage compared with traditional production methods. In a survey of ≈400 Canadian consumers, pest management was considered as the second most important factor (≈25% relative importance) to price (≈27% relative importance) of both edible and non-edible greenhouse-grown crops (Grygorczyk et al., 2014). However, there were groups of consumers who believed that pest management practices were the most important factor for edible crops (24%) and non-edible crops (13.5%). In a separate study, consumers were willing to spend up to $485 annually for the protection of eucalyptus species in the landscape with biological control pest management practices from the eucalyptus snout beetle. In contrast, participants reported that they would only be willing to spend $23 for chemical management of the eucalyptus snout beetle (Jetter and Paine, 2004). Similarly, most consumers surveyed (90%) in another study indicated they would pay 20% more for a pesticide-free pumpkin (Olson et al., 1995). While research has suggested that some consumers value reduced pesticide usage, the National Gardening Association (NGA) reported that 24% of all U.S. households (≈29 million) controlled insects on plants in 2012, an increase of 1 million households compared with the 5-year average (28 million) (Butterfield and Baldwin, 2013). Furthermore, retail sales of insect control products increased from $1.693 billion in 2011 to $1.772 billion in 2012, or about 5%. The contrasting trend of increasing home owner insecticide use along with increasing preference for less pesticide use by plant producers may show that the importance of pest management methods is still secondary to plant quality. Consumers focus less on environmental impacts and still seek to control pests on their plants once they purchase them. However, they seem to be more skeptical about commercial growers’ pest management practices.
In this study, our goal was to better understand consumer perceptions and willingness to pay a price premium for floriculture crops grown using different pest management practices including: traditional, neonicotinoid-free, bee-friendly, or biological control pest management practices. We investigated consumer’s understanding of, and preferences for, plants grown with these production methods. We explored the importance of pest management practices relative to species and price in consumer’s purchasing decisions. Finally, we investigated if there was a difference in preference or understanding of pest control practices among consumers who had and had not bought plants in the last 12 months.
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