Consumers have little or no knowledge of modern farming and ranching

Created: 9/23/11 (Fri) | Topic: Issues

An editorial by John Hart

When the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance was formed in November 2010, organizers knew that the task ahead would be daunting. After all, this was the first time ever that all of agriculture would come together under one banner to increase its share of voice in the food conversation arena.

“This is a historic joining together of farm organizations,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman, when the formation of USFRA was announced. “We are committed to developing a well-funded, long-term, coordinated campaign to increase consumer trust in agricultural producers and the food system.”

Stallman, who serves as chairman of USFRA, would be the first to tell you that USFRA faces skeptics who doubt that all sectors of agriculture with disparate interests can work together in a united effort. But as USFRA approaches its first anniversary, it is proving the skeptics wrong. USFRA is financially strong and the current membership of 49 organizations, representing groups as diverse as egg farmers and rice producers, is united in the goal to engage in a dialogue about the value of modern food production.

The public conversation with consumers and food decision makers has begun. On Sept. 22, USFRA held “The Food Dialogues” a connected, town-hall-style meeting at four locations across the country — Washington, D.C., New York City, Fair Oaks Farms in Indiana and at the University of California-Davis. The live event was also viewed online by consumers and farmers alike and was quite the buzz on social media platforms such as Twitter.

During the dialogues, USFRA released the results of two national surveys that polled farmers and consumers about food and farm issues. The results of those surveys further underscore the difficult task at hand. The surveys show that consumers think about food production constantly and are interested in knowing about the food they eat, yet they know very little about how food is brought to the dinner table.

This finding doesn’t surprise Stallman. At the Washington, D.C. town hall, Stallman said the results of the survey underscore the need of farmers and ranchers to do a better job of reaching out to consumers. The good news, he says, is that farmers and ranchers want to open up to their customers and become more transparent.

The consumer survey makes it clear that Americans have become disconnected from their food. A staggering 72 percent surveyed know nothing or very little about farming and ranching. Still, 70 percent said their purchase decisions are affected by how food is grown and raised, while 72 percent say they think about the topic when purchasing groceries.

Another important finding of the survey shows that consumers expect farmers to produce healthy foods, with 79 percent of those surveyed saying producing healthy choices for all consumers is very important for farmers and ranchers to consider when planning farming and ranching practices.

In the survey of farmers and ranchers, a whopping 86 percent responded that the average consumer has little or no knowledge about modern farming and ranching. A clear result of the survey was that farmers and ranchers believe the top misconception they must overcome is the notion that a few “bad actors” represent all of agriculture. Additionally, farmers and ranchers identified the role of pesticides, antibiotics and fertilizers in food production as the most important priorities they should address when communicating with consumers.

The results of the survey underscore the daunting task USFRA faces. But the dialogue has begun and leaders of USFRA are committed to engaging, openly and honestly answering questions about how food is grown and tended. Already, USFRA is proving the skeptics wrong. Stallman and other USFRA leaders have one clear message to consumers: “We’re listening.”

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