A recent national survey revealed a disturbing conclusion: Americans constantly thinks about food production, but the populace thinks little about the source of their food: ranching and farming. Perceptions could very well have strong impact on the future direction of agriculture. Are we moving in the right direction?
Recently released finding from two national food surveys (about how food is grown and raised) focused on opinions, attitudes and questions that farmers and ranchers—and consumers—have about the current and future state of food in the United States.
The major take-home point: Results reveal that lack of information access has divided opinion on our nation’s agricultural direction. Further, the results suggest that there might be no interest or passion about the topic.
In other words, does anyone even care?
Yes, says Bob Stallman, chairman of the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), who planned to announce the results in town-hall style meetings appropriately named “The Food Dialogues.”
Questions—and subsequent forums—are crucial, as Americans entertain many questions about where there food comes from, how the food is raised, and if it is good for their long-term health.
“The USFRA commissioned two separate surveys to address two questions,” says Stallman, who is also president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. First, he says, it wanted to ask farmers and ranchers what they wanted—indeed wished—Americans to know about where food comes from. Next, the organization wanted to know the questions consumers had about the same topic.
The most immediate impact of these surveys, says Stallman, points to an opportunity for more dialog between farmers, ranchers and the American public about food.
Results of both surveys will be readily—even easily available—thanks to new social networking. Indeed, the two survey’s results were open to discussion and provided for sharing at outlets such as Facebook.
Highlights of the research include:
- While nearly all Americans agree that food production is important to US success, they are split on whether it is going in the right or wrong direction
- While consumers constantly think about food production, they know very little about how it’s brought to their table
- Overwhelmingly, farmers and ranchers share the same values as consumers on issues related to environmental stewardship and animal care
Another Survey Revelation: Disconnection
The survey revealed that US consumers have become disconnected from their food, even though the subject constantly concerns them. There are several reasons for this, and the survey placed these in a bold spotlight. According to the survey:
- 72 percent of consumers know nothing or very little about farming or ranching
- 69 percent of consumers think about food production only somewhat often
- 70 percent say purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, with three-quarters (or 72 percent) of Americans saying they think about this topic while purchasing groceries
- 42 percent of Americans (or two in five) say the way that food is grown and raised has improved in the last 10 years, while 37 percent feel it has worsened
Further, those who say the way that food is grown and raised has improved cite food safety (22 percent) and food quality (17 percent), whereas respondents who said the way food is grown and raised has worsened also cite food safety (21 percent) and food quality (21 percent).
- Of all the aspects of how food is grown and raised, Americans are most satisfied with the availability of healthy foods (73 percent) and food safety standards (66 percent).
- One in five consumers who say food production has worsened in the last 10 years cite environmental impact as the main problem.
- 79 percent of consumers say producing healthy choices for all consumers is very important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning farming and ranching practices
Consumers also were asked to identify the top five topics they want more information about. Their responses were couched in even more questions:
- How are chemicals used in farming/ranching?
- How are pesticides used in farming/ranching?
- What about food safety standards?
- How do government regulations impact farming/ranching?
- How are antibiotics used?
- How is genetic engineering deployed in crop production?
Survey Purpose and Impact
The goal of the farmer/rancher survey was to identify topics that farmers and ranchers wished Americans had more information about when it comes to food and how it is grown and raised in the United States. This is one important finding: Farmers and ranchers said the top misconception they need to overcome as an industry is that a few “bad actors” represent the entire industry.
Additionally, farmers and ranchers identified the effect of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers on food as the most important priorities they should address when communicating with consumers. In this area, here’s what we learned from the comprehensive survey:
- 86 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that the average consumer has little to no knowledge about modern farming/ranching
- 58 percent of respondents in this survey felt consumers have a completely inaccurate perception of farming and ranching
- Nearly all farmers and ranchers say that protecting the environment (99 percent) and practicing humane animal care (96 percent) are very or somewhat important goals or practices related to their business
- 80 percent of farmers/ranchers say that consumers have little to no knowledge about proper care of livestock or poultry
- 83 percent of farmers/ranchers responded that new ways of improving yields with fewer environmental inputs will have a major impact on farming/ranching in the future
Top Five Most Important Topics
When asked which top five topics were most important to educate consumers about, farmers and ranchers responded:
- The effect of pesticides, fertilizers and antibiotics on food
- Where food comes from in general
- Proper care of livestock and poultry
- Effect of government regulations on farming/ranching
- Economic value of agriculture
Stallman hopes that the survey results—combined with the “Food Dialogues” event—will foster conversation between farmers, ranchers and the American public.
“That would be anyone who is interested in learning more about how food is grown in the United States,” he says.
That includes many people, he hopes: “All Americans need to ask questions of and regularly seek information from the farmers and ranchers that raise their food.”
Finally, he adds the all can join in this discussion at www.fooddialogues.com. More information can be obtained at the same website.
The 2011 USFRA Farmer/Rancher Survey was fielded by phone for the United States Farmers and Ranchers Alliance by Ketchum Global Research Network and Braun Research. Research was conducted between August 6 to 18, 2011. It reached 1,002 nationwide farmers and ranchers (base sample margin of error: +/- 3.1 percent). Established in 2010, the USFRA, represents more than 50 of the leading farmer/rancher-led organizations and agricultural partners. The alliance, headquartered in Chesterfield, Mo., includes prominent agricultural groups at the national, regional and state levels. For more information, visit www.fooddialogues.com; http://www.facebook.com/pages/US-Farmers-Ranchers-Alliance/103189669746931 and http://twitter.com/USFRA