Increasingly, composting is used as a waste management method for a variety of organic materials (Walker et al., 2006). Composting is the biological decomposition of organic and “waste” materials, such as plant tissues, food scraps, paper, animal fodder, and wood chips, into a soil-like product called “compost” (Rynk, 1992). The humus-like end product becomes a valuable soil amendment because it increases levels of organic matter (Laudicina et al., 2011), contains essential plant macro and micronutrients (Emerson, 2003; Faucette et al., 2003), stimulates microbial activity (Iovieno et al., 2009), and improves soil water-holding capacity and soil structure, which in turn reduces runoff, drought damage to plants, and the need for fertilizers (Dougherty, 1999; Foley and Cooperband, 2002; Rynk, 1992).
Coastal regions of Texas have a proliferation of brown seaweed (Sargassum sp.) drifting onshore especially in the spring and early summer months, which overlaps with peak tourist seasons (Sembera et al., 2018). An excess of the seaweed is harvested in all major beach areas including Galveston, Port Aransas, Corpus Christi, South Padre Island, and Mustang Island. While brown seaweed can provide food and habitat for a diversity of marine life, excessive growth of seaweed threatens coastal areas economically and environmentally. Tourists often view the seaweed mats as poor beach maintenance (Gaskill, 2015). Because these areas rely on income generated from tourists, maintaining or increasing the tourism industry is essential (Gaskill, 2015). Additionally, excessive brown seaweed is considered a nuisance because it clogs recreational boating and fishing areas, as well as traps debris. Environmentally, excessive decomposition of this organic matter can lead to eutrophication (Eyras et al., 1998) and can entrap marine life (Langin, 2018). In 2011, brown seaweed was added to the Global Invasive Species Database (Invasive Species Specialist Group, 2011).
While excessive, nonnative brown seaweed biomass can have serious negative implications as described above, seaweed can be used a beneficial agricultural input. For centuries, species of seaweed have been applied directly to land to enhance plant growth and productivity, particularly in coastal areas (McHugh, 2003). Seaweeds and seaweed liquid fertilizers are commercialized and substituted for synthetic fertilizers. As reported by Begum et al. (2018), seaweed extracts are marketed as liquid fertilizer and bio-stimulants because they contain multiple growth regulators, such as cytokinins (Durande et al., 2003), auxins (Sahoo, 2000), and gibberellins (Strik and Staden, 1997). Applied to crops, seaweed extracts have additional benefits including the promotion of beneficial soil microorganisms (Khan et al., 2009), increased plant nutrient uptake from soil (Turan and Köse, 2004), enhanced antioxidant properties (Verkleij, 1992), increased crop tolerance to environmental stress (Zhang et al., 2003), and increased crop resistance to some pests, such as red spider mites (Tetranychus urticae) and aphids (Aphidoidea) (McHugh, 2003). Furthermore, seaweed and liquid seaweed manures appear to induce fruit setting and increase germination rates (McHugh, 2003; Sivasankari et al., 2006). The increased crop germination rate at low concentrations of added seaweed extract could be due to growth promoting gibberellins, as well as additional micronutrients and amino acids that positively influence crop germination (Begum et al., 2018). Given these beneficial attributes, seaweed is applied as a green manure, foliar spray, soil conditioner, and/or soil drench (Thirumaran et al., 2009).
In areas where excess brown seaweed can be an economic and environmental detriment, initiatives have been implemented to compost brown seaweed due to its value as a soil amendment and fertilizer (Eyras et al., 1998; Illera-Vives et al., 2015; López-Mosquera et al., 2011; Sembera et al., 2018). By analyzing pH, soluble salt content, macro and micronutrient content, carbon:nitrogen ratio, percent solids, and percent moisture content of composted brown seaweed, Sembera et al. (2018) found that compost created from brown seaweed resulted in a quality product for the horticultural industry. Although the quality of some brown seaweed compost can be limited due to high amount of sand and low nitrogen content, compost developed from seaweed has shown to increase soil water-holding capacity, plant growth, and plant macro and micronutrient uptake (Eyras et al., 1998; Illera-Vives et al., 2015; Michalak et al., 2017). Additionally, tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) grown with seaweed compost matured more quickly and showed higher resistance to disease (Eyras et al., 2008). While more research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms for these increases in yield and disease resistance, it is recognized that seaweed, which would otherwise be a waste product, can be of significant value as a composted material when used as a soil amendment (Cole et al., 2016).
The global compost market is expected to reach $9.2 billion by 2024 (PR Newswire, 2019). Within the compost industry, there has been some differentiation in products available and the prices at which they were offered based on the ingredients from which the compost was made (Walker et al., 2006). For instance, composts prepared from municipal sewage waste are generally sold at a lower price when compared with compost created with animal manures (Garden-Ville, unpublished data). Landscape blends created with topsoil, mulch, and/or sand are promoted and offered for alternative applications (Garden-Ville, unpublished data). Knowledgeable and informed consumers will often recognize that not all composts have the same attributes and that various ingredients may have differing effects, limitations, and/or benefits (Alexander, 2019). With the understanding that various compost ingredients can demand different price points and that this may be a novel product for some consumers, it is important to establish whether the potential consumers are actually interested in the product as well as identifying the potential consumers (Glover et al., 2014; van Kleef et al., 2005).
Studies have shown that consumers are influenced by their personal values. For example, one study found most consumers would buy fewer imported products if they knew the distance products had traveled (Gairdner, 2006). Hence, more interest was garnered by consumers of other types of agricultural and horticultural products regarding local sourcing (Getter and Behe, 2013; Yue et al., 2011; Zaffou and Campbell, 2016). Additionally, some consumers were affected by ethnocentricity—where they are more likely to buy products made in the United States or in their home state. For example, in Texas, the “Go Texan” campaign was developed by the Texas Department of Agriculture and is used to promote Texas products and producers (Willcox, 2015).
Thus, the purpose of this study was to conduct a market test to determine the potential value of seaweed-incorporated compost to consumers in Texas and to identify attributes of likely consumers.
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