Canadians aren’t just fearing for their own livelihood these days. They wonder if farmers will make it through tough economic times too.
A new national study conducted by Ipsos-Reid for the Ontario Farm Animal Council in February shows Canadians rank the sustainability and profitability of the family farm as a “top-of-mind” concern.
“We’ve never seen anything related to the economy this high before,” said Crystal MacKay, executive director of OFAC.
The study posed questions to nearly 1,200 adult Canadians to better understand their attitudes toward food, farmers and farming in general.
The economic well-being of farmers actually ranked higher than in previous polls dating back to 2001, noted MacKay, adding that OFAC was “pleasantly surprised” by that finding.
“The public’s empathy and interest in farming is high,” she said.
“We’ve never seen anything related to the economy this high before.”
– CRYSTAL MACKAY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF OFAC
Canadians also continue to rank farmers and ranchers first as sources of trusted information, with 52 per cent polled saying they had a positive impression of Canadian agriculture.
In 2006, 42 per cent held that impression. Public interest in localizing their diet, knowing where food comes from and trying to get to know more farmers personally may be what’s behind some of this, MacKay said.
The study probed people’s interest in buying local and most say the No. 1 reason is their desire to support a local economy. “That whole buy-local area is a huge opportunity,” MacKay said.
Respondents were frank about not knowing much about agriculture, however. Over 95 per cent of respondents said they knew little or nothing about farming. Still, 62 per cent said they’d like to know more.
That, plus the high credibility and level of trust farmers still have with the general public, presents an opportunity for more and better communication with the general public, said MacKay.
OFAC and other farm animal councils must find ways to train and empower farmers to tell their own story. “We have a saying at OFAC and that is ‘we have a complicated strategy but we really have a simple plan,’” she said. “No. 1 is to do the right thing and No. 2 is to tell people about it. That’s what this comes down to.”
The OFAC Farm Issues Study is a tracking study done using Ipsos-Reid’s Online Household Panel of over 200,000 Canadians. The study was fielded between Feb. 20 and 26, 2009. Other findings of the study showed Canadians still have a high level of trust in the safety of the food they eat and over half (52 per cent) said they think the welfare of animals in the care of Canadian farmers is either good or very good. Nine per cent admitted they didn’t know. Forty-three per cent of non-farming adults view farming as either very environmentally friendly or somewhat environmentally friendly.
However, just six per cent viewed it as a truly green industry.