WASHINGTON — Anyone who believes the public thinks poorly of farmers, farming or food industries should reconsider that notion.
A Gallup poll conducted earlier this year put farming and agriculture as the top-ranked industry, with 69% of surveyed Americans viewing the industry positively, followed closely by the grocery industry and restaurant industry at 63% and 61%, respectively. Only 11% of people surveyed viewed farming and agriculture negatively.
The COVID-19 pandemic, and the resulting supply chain disruptions, seem to have played a part, said Betsy Huber, president of National Grange, a 153-year-old fraternal organization based in agriculture.
“When the COVID pandemic started, I think people realized how important agriculture really is,” she said.
The survey, conducted July 30-Aug. 12, asked a random sample of 1,031 adults living in every state and the District of Columbia about their perceptions of industries. Each of 25 industries was rated by 550 respondents. Gallup surveyed 70% of participants over cellphones and 30% over landlines using random-digit-dial methods.
Farming and agriculture took a big leap in the rankings compared to last year, gaining 11 points in the positive column compared to 2019. Only health care, which gained 13 points to push it to a 51% positive and a 13th-place ranking, gained more.
The pharmaceutical industry ranked 24th out of the 25 ranked industries. However, that industry made a big jump from last year, when it ranked last and had only 27% of people viewing it positively, compared to 34% this year.
Travel and sports industries decreased in positivity more than any other industries. Travel dropped 11 points to 41%, and sports dropped 15 points to 30%. The federal government brought up the bottom of the rankings, with only 30% of respondents viewing it positively.
“(T)he public is expressing greater appreciation for the work of three industries that are crucial to people's well-being: farming and agriculture, health care and pharmaceuticals,” said a blog post from Gallup about the poll.
Huber said the pandemic has placed the spotlight on essential workers tied to the food chain, whether it be growing, processing, transporting or selling food. She said this year's high ranking also may tie into the fact that past surveys and polls have shown that people find farmers to be trustworthy.
“People trust that the food they eat is safe and plentiful,” she said.
The pandemic made people think about how they had perhaps taken for granted the abundance of food available to them.
“Of course, people didn’t understand the food was plentiful; it was the supply chain that was the problem,” Huber said.
Not only did farming and agriculture top the charts, but it also increased pretty evenly across various U.S. subgroups. That means there is no partisan push for agriculture but a more across-the-board awareness of the industry’s importance.
Huber said efforts by farmers to reach out to the public need to continue to maintain the positive perception of the industry. Efforts in social media, blogs, farm tours and agritourism help explain and promote agriculture, she said.
“I think that is definitely helping to improve the perception of farming as a great occupation and something that we certainly need,” she said.