In a recent conversation with a group of farmers, the dialogue centered around public perception and knowledge of ag production. The conversation wasn’t filled with research and data, but rather farmer perspectives. It is easy to generalize and hold up examples by a few to make the case that their opinion and perception represents all.

NDFU, along with many others, has hired research companies to gather data for us to better understand consumer issues surrounding food production. Many times, research supports perception but at times, it does not. The data collection process we used included surveys and focus groups. 

One of our research projects a few years ago was conducted by a firm out of New York. The results indicated consumers are somewhat enamored with family farmers and ranchers. According to our polls, they trust farmers and ranchers more than science to deliver high quality and safe food to their tables. They believe government should support us and help us deliver food to our nation.

What consumers miss is the understanding of how food production at the farm and ranch level is carried out and specific processes used to achieve a high quality, safe and inexpensive food system. This is often what farmers like to discuss when conversing with one another.

With only a small percentage of our population participating in production agriculture, it is easy to understand why misperceptions exist. The role of our organization is to help educate consumers on issues surrounding agriculture. This is very hard to do with consumers as most are not waiting or wanting to attend a meeting to learn about food production.

Consumers need to know that farmers and ranchers are great stewards of the land. They are committed to keeping the land healthy and ready for the next generation. Farmers and ranchers use modern tools and equipment. Tractors and trucks are not just fun toys but essential business tools. Farmers and ranchers adopt and utilize technology to enhance their income stream and lower input costs. Farmers and ranchers are very efficient. Take wheat, for example. In 1970, wheat was as high as $6 a bushel. Until recently, wheat prices were much lower. There aren’t many businesses that can continue to be successful selling a product for the same price they received 50 years ago.

Farmers and ranchers, I challenge you to communicate more with consumers. And consumers, I challenge you to ask more questions of farmers and ranchers. It is up to us to educate consumers on the idiosyncrasies of food production, dispel myths, and share facts and realities. We need consumer support for family farm and ranch agriculture and food production processes that feed our nation and the world.

— NDFU President Mark Watne