Turfgrass has been used for many residential and commercial benefits such as wind and water erosion control, various sports activities, and landscapes for homes and business properties. Approximately 50 million acres of land are managed as turf in the form of residential lawns, athletic fields, golf courses, highway roadsides, cemeteries, and parks with an annual estimated value of $57.9 billion (Haydu et al., 2006). Presently, there are about three times more acres of lawn (including residential and commercial) than irrigated corn (Zea mays). This makes turfgrass the single largest irrigated crop in the United States in terms of surface area (Earth Observatory, 2005). As the industry is expanding, turf producers and breeders strive to produce new and improved turf varieties. In developing new turfgrass varieties, they consider the many challenges for turfgrass cultivation and appearance, which include attributes such as water requirements, salinity, shade, winter stress, and high maintenance cost.
For example, during drought and water shortages, municipalities often prohibit or reduce the use of potable freshwater on the turfgrass landscape, considering it a low priority (Kjelgren et al., 2000). Many cities have imposed mandatory irrigation restrictions, water audits, water bans, and increased prices for potable water to minimize water scarcity during droughts and to meet long-term water demand (Kenny et al., 2009). Thus, the shortage of municipally treated water has resulted in rules or regulations that require homeowners to use effluent or low-quality water such as rainwater or reclaimed water for lawn irrigation purposes. Proper turfgrass management is also affected by salinity. The use of low-quality water in hot and dry climates (drought conditions) may cause higher concentrations of salt in the soil profile, which not only adversely affects turfgrass growth but also increases maintenance costs. In addition, use of salt for road thawing in winter or intrusion of seawater in coastal cities also increases the salinity problem in turfgrass (Murdoch, 1987). Furthermore, many homeowners are concerned about shaded areas in their landscape because shade tends to require different turf varieties with greater water needs (Harivandi and Gibeault, 1996). Loss of turfgrass during winter due to freezing temperatures, termed winterkill, is also another major problem of lawns (Frank, 2013).
The objective of this study is to estimate the economic effects of developing drought- and shade-tolerant bermudagrass turf varieties in five states: Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas. These states were selected because of their active research program in developing new varieties in the respective land grant institutions under the Specialty Crops Research Initiative funded by the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA grant number 2010-51181-21064). Estimating potential economic effects of developing these improved turfgrass varieties is expected to guide publically and privately funded turfgrass research. The study focuses on a warm-season grass, bermudagrass, because bermudagrass comprises a large share of the total sod production in each of these states: 43.0%, 7.0%, 40.0%, 69.0%, and 12.3% in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, and North Carolina, respectively (USDA, 2015). These two (drought- and shade-tolerant) turfgrass varieties were selected based on previous studies (Ghimire, 2015; Ghimire et al., 2016) and a multiuniversity turfgrass research project which (Chandra et al., 2015) demonstrated that these two improvements were the most important as they were the most valued traits by homeowners in the five southern states (see Chandra et al., 2015 for a detailed description of these two turf varieties).
Few studies estimate homeowners’ preferences (or willingness-to-pay) on turfgrass attributes (Ghimire et al., 2016; Yue et al., 2012) or the total value of the turf industry either by state, or on a national basis (Haydu et al., 2006). However, no studies have provided potential economic and social impacts of improving turfgrass on regional markets. Our study estimates the potential economic impact of the improved varieties on the turfgrass industry of each state in terms of output values, value added, and employment. We first survey homeowners to estimate their preferences for the proposed new varieties and then we calculate the potential shares of the turfgrass market that the improved varieties for drought tolerance and shade tolerance could garner. Then, the value of the bermudagrass market in the selected states is estimated followed by the calculation of the crop values for the new varieties under the assumption of full and partial adoption. Finally, economic impacts (i.e., output values, value added, and employment impacts) of the adoption of the new varieties, partial and full, are evaluated using economic impact analysis using IMPLAN software (IMPLAN, Huntersville, NC) with economic multipliers for each state.
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