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Agrimarketing : November December 2009
The image of agriculture in the United States is under fire. Mainstream media outlets continually demonize an industry of which they know very little. Journalists speak as if they were agronomic, nutritional, economic and sociological experts. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by this onslaught. It is easy to assume that public opinion of farming is quite low. But that is not the case. Because it seems like the public hears so many negative things about production agriculture, the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) decided to conduct research to assess exactly what people do think about corn, corn farmers, corn products, and American agriculture as a whole. The decision to conduct research of a broader scope than our focus area of corn came from a desire to help direct the industry on a new course. After all, attacks on one part of the chain affect all others. This past summer, NCGA selected David Binder Research to conduct a series of focus groups and a nationwide survey. With 24 years of experience, Binder and his team have worked on such high profile campaigns as Barack Obama's 2008 run for the presidency. With a reputation for accurate research and pointed insights, Binder serves as a resource for various media such as The New York Times, Newsweek, ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox. The company designed the research model, conducted six focus groups in August and a telephone survey of 1,000 U.S. voters in mid-September. BROAD SUPPORT The nationwide survey found broad public respect and trust for family farmers and support for food, feed and fuel. Ninety-five percent of those polled believe that farmers are trustworthy messengers on issues such as agriculture, corn products and ethanol. Sixty-five percent of those polled supported ethanol as a fuel alternative. "We expected to see some pretty solid results in this polling, but the final numbers were beyond what we imagined," says NCGA President Darrin Ihnen, a farmer from Hurley, SD. "This high level of support is gratifying, and it is also a challenge as we must work hard to maintain the trust that con- sumers place in us." The study found broad support for many uses of corn (Table 1). Ninety- five percent of those polled support corn as food for people and 93% support its use as feed for live- stock. Sixty-seven percent of partici- pants supported the useofcornasa sweetener and, as previously mentioned, 65% support its use in ethanol. Other uses of corn, such as for fiber and packaging, were sup- ported by 73% of those polled. Respondents also spoke about what they saw as the top benefits of corn-based ethanol (Table 2). Thirty-four percent mentioned reduced dependence on foreign oil, 19% mentioned the creation of new jobs and 16% liked it for its environmental benefits. "Farming is under attack in the mainstream media because of the fallacious ideas about modern American agriculture promoted by a small group of reporters," Ihnen says. "One of our goals at NCGA is to help educate the media and the public about how current technology has helped family farmers do their traditional jobs more effectively and more affordably." In addition to a detailed study of public attitudes of concern to corn growers, interviewers asked more general questions that generated data of interest to the whole industry. Here, over 90% of those surveyed viewed farmers in a positive light and nearly two out of every three, roughly 63%, had a strongly positive image of farmers. TRUSTED Family farmers are the most trusted messengers on issues like agricul- 28 Agri Marketing November/December 2009 RESEARCH UPDATE PUBLIC'S ATTITUDE OF AGRICULTURE by Rick Tolman, CEO, National Corn Growers Association The majority of respondents' support for corn as food and feed is nearly universal, while respondents also support other uses for corn, including high fructose corn syrup. Respondents see the most important benefit of ethanol is to reduce dependecy on foreign oil. Table 1CONSUMER RESPONSES TO WAYS CORN CAN BE USED Table 2 WHICH OF THESE BENEFITS IS IMPORTANT WHEN USING ETHANOL AS A FUEL?
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