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Commentary: Americans retain positive views of farmers, ranchers

Issue Date: April 28, 2021
By Dave Kranz
Dave Kranz
By large margins, Americans express respect and trust in farmers and ranchers. One recent survey placed farming and agriculture No. 1 among the nation’s economic sectors.

Markets, weather, demanding customers, and a seemingly endless stream of new regulations: Farmers and ranchers can sometimes feel under siege from all sides. But public-opinion polling shows one consistent ray of light.

Americans hold farmers and ranchers in high esteem, and trust them.

Farming and agriculture has consistently been one of the top-ranked economic sectors in annual Gallup polls that measure the images of 25 U.S. businesses and industries. And, for the first time, farming and agriculture ranked No. 1 among American economic sectors in Gallup's most recent survey, conducted last year.

More than two-thirds of survey respondents—69%—expressed positive opinions about farming and only 11% were negative; the rest described themselves as neutral. The positive views of agriculture rose 11 percentage points from the previous year's poll, Gallup said, noting the increased positive rating came "about evenly across U.S. subgroups."

Along with farming, two other sectors—health care and pharmaceuticals—became more positively rated in 2020, which Gallup attributed to their roles in "delivering vital goods and services to Americans during the pandemic." But there's a key difference: Neither the health care nor pharmaceutical industries are very highly rated overall. Health care ranks in the middle of the pack, and pharmaceuticals leapfrogged the federal government to rank next to last in the annual survey.

Later in the year, the American Farm Bureau contracted with the polling firm Morning Consult to measure Americans' attitudes about farming and sustainability.

When asked how much they trust farmers, more than half the respondents in the Morning Consult survey said, "a lot." In all, 88% of the survey participants expressed trust in farmers. More than half ranked farmers' sustainability practices as either excellent (17%) or good (41%).

That's important information to keep in mind as we enter what figures to be another long, hot summer in California. As we saw in the most recent drought of 2012-16, people are going to begin criticizing farmers for their water use and crop choices. In fact, it has already started.

It's easy, maybe even natural, to become defensive when presented with some of these arguments and accusations—especially when they come from well-financed advocacy organizations who have frequently used the editorial boards of California newspapers as megaphones.

But here's the thing to remember, as the public-opinion surveys remind us: Most Americans, and most Californians, have a positive opinion of farming and ranching, and those positive opinions may have even been enhanced by the way farmers, ranchers and their employees have maintained food production during the pandemic.

Yes, there's a small group of people who hold negative opinions of farmers and ranchers—11% in the Gallup survey, 4% in the Morning Consult/AFBF poll—but they're just that, a small minority. Some of them, perhaps, work for interest groups or regulatory agencies that want farmers or ranchers to change their production practices or their crops. That's one reason Farm Bureau policy advocates do the work they do—to make sure the positive attributes of farming and ranching remain in front of decision-makers.

In the public-opinion sphere, maintaining a positive image can't be taken for granted.

In times of crisis, such as the pandemic or a drought, people want to know that farmers and ranchers care about their customers and their employees. They want to know farmers and ranchers care about the animals and crops they tend, and about the water, soil and air they depend on to raise those animals and crops.

Having worked with farmers and ranchers for a long time, I believe all those things to be true, and that farmers and ranchers serve themselves best in the public eye when they show that they care about others' needs as much as they care about their own.

When things go badly—as they have at times during the pandemic or as they may during the coming dry summer—people will want to know that farmers and ranchers are doing the best they can in a difficult situation. They will want to know that farmers and ranchers work constantly to improve the way they produce crops and commodities, and that they will learn lessons from the current crises that will ultimately benefit their customers, their employees and the environment.

By focusing on those points, farmers and ranchers can reinforce their already-strong image among the American public. As difficult as it may be to believe at times, remember: Americans respect and trust farmers and ranchers, and want them to succeed.

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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