Project title: Applying Q Methodology to Investigate How U.S. Meat Producers Prioritize Decisions Regarding Environmental Stewardship and Animal Wellbeing
Completed in: 2023 | Faculty advisor: Jennifer Otten
U.S. meat producers continue to face challenges with how to improve production sustainability, while balancing environmental and animal wellbeing decisions. The industry is driven by changing consumer preferences and market trends that require the need for continued transformations towards a sustainable production practice. The objective of this Q methodology study is to better understand how U.S. meat producers prioritize sustainability-related decisions, in response to both internal and external pressures. The underlying goals of this research is to explore both the drivers of this complex decision-making landscape, while illuminating the tradeoffs made between environmental stewardship and animal wellbeing. The facilitators and barriers to the why behind producers’ current operational decisions have been examined across very small to very large scale beef, pork, and broiler operations. Using principal component analysis (PCA), 38 variables produced three distinct discourses: Animal Husbandry: First and Foremost; Business Sustainability: A Balancing Act; Environmental Stewardship: A Holistic Approach. These findings explain the tradeoffs made between high efficient production and affordable meat products with the sole prioritization of environmental stewardship or animal wellbeing. The key differences between these viewpoints lies within what can currently be prioritized given the resources allocated to each producer, while balancing personal beliefs with business viability. The need for flexible support systems that (1) reflect the needs of all producers and (2) reflect the needs of individual groupings of producers that differ between one another, is needed to increase sustainability-related practice adoption on animal agricultural operations.