Societal Perceptions Of Agriculture
Tension between farm operators and their surrounding neighbors within rural communities continues to escalate as residents become increasingly removed from production agriculture. An expanding gap exists between public perceptions of the effects of the structure and production practices of modern agriculture, and reality. Combined with a shrinking farm population and support base, misperceptions may have important consequences for farm legislation and regulations. Obtaining knowledge about how the public views agriculture is a necessary step in correcting misperceptions and may help the industry and policy makers understand the beliefs and values of the populace. Collecting information about perceptions of agriculture among residents of the North Central Region of the United States was the goal of this study. Data came from a two-stage random sample of households in the North Central Region. Counties in the region were first stratified by location relative to a metropolitan center and by population change between 1980 and 1998. Next, 50 households within each of 5 counties in a strata were surveyed by telephone. The survey included 13 questions eliciting perceptions regarding the impact of agriculture on the local economy, environmental concerns, appropriateness of current farming regulations, and consequences of farm structure. In general, respondents had a favorable view of agriculture. They overwhelmingly agreed that farmers have a positive impact on their local economy. Three-fourths agreed that a loss of farmers in the region would greatly hurt the local economy; respondents living near small towns were the most likely to agree. Overall, farmers were considered good environmental stewards and existing environmental regulations were perceived as appropriate. A majority of respondents agreed that noise, odor, and other environmental issues associated with farming in their area are minimal. Respondents had strong negative opinions about how the consolidating structure of agriculture will influence the environment, society, and local economies, and a majority agreed the government should do more to help farmers in their area stay in business. Perceptions of those who are or have associates who are economically dependent on livestock differed from those held by other respondents. Respondents themselves receiving or with associates who receive income from or work with livestock were less likely than other respondents to agree that there exist environmental issues associated with farming and that additional environmental legislation is needed. Place of residence also influenced perception. In general, farm residents expressed greater concern about the impact of farm consolidation, perceived there to be less of an environmental concern associated with farming, and more strongly agreed existing legislation regulating agriculture is appropriate than either rural non-farm or city residents.
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