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The survey by the North Carolina Chamber of 500 registered North Carolina voters shows a 60% positive view of agriculture.

John Hart, Associate Editor

May 2, 2022

4 Min Read
John_Hart_Farm_Press_Mitch_Peale_Ray_Starling_Carrie_Harbinson.jpg
At a forum for agricultural biotechnology professionals at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park April 21, are from left, Mitch Peele, executive director of public policy for the North Carolina Farm Bureau; Ray Starling, general counsel of the North Carolina Chamber and president of the North Carolina Legal Institute; and Carrie Harbinson, manager, ag tech & consumer goods practice with SAS. John Hart

Agriculture enjoys the greatest positive view of any sector of the North Carolina economy, certainly good news for the state’s farmers who often sense that the public doesn’t value what they do.

At a forum for agriculture biotechnology professionals at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park April 21, Ray Starling, general counsel for the North Carolina Chamber and president of the North Carolina Chamber Legal Institute, presented results of a survey conducted by the Chamber of 500 registered and likely North Carolina voters, showing a 60% positive view of agriculture.

Also, at the forum, Mitch Peele, senior director of public policy for the North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation, highlighted results from focus groups held in the four major metropolitan areas of North Carolina last summer that confirm the chamber’s findings that consumers have a mostly positive view of farmers and agriculture. Peele said the results reveal that consumers don’t fully understand agriculture, but they do trust farmers.

Starling said the real “man bites dog” story of the Chamber survey is that a common complaint often voiced by famers at Farm Bureau and commodity meetings that consumers don’t appreciate them is not correct. “The data tells us that people think very highly of agriculture and farmers, more highly than they do of folks in other industries.”

The Chamber survey of 500 registered and likely voters from across North Carolina was conducted by CHS & Associates July 26 through July 31. The survey had a margin of error of +/- 4%.

60% positive rating

Agriculture enjoyed a 60% positive rating of those surveyed, compared to 53% for the tech industry, 42% for the health care industry, 40% for banking, 30% for electric and gas utilities, 27% for the pharmaceutical industry, and 25% for the airline industry.

Agriculture enjoys a 61% positive view of the Republicans surveyed, a 54% positive view of the Democrats surveyed, and a 66% positive view of independents surveyed. 

The survey shows 61% of the Caucasians surveyed have a positive view of agriculture while 53% of African Americans have a positive view of agriculture.

Regionally, 44% of those surveyed in western North Carolina had a positive view of agriculture compared to 63% in Charlotte, 58% in the Piedmont/Triad, 58% in the Research Triangle, 63% in the Northeast, 78% in eastern North Carolina, and 56% in Southeastern North Carolina.

Among native North Carolinians, agriculture enjoyed a 63% positive view, compared to 53% for North Carolina residents who have lived in the state more than 10 years, 60% for those who have lived in the state five to 10 years, 69% for those who have lived in the state two to five years, and 75% for those who have lived in North Carolina two years or less.

Top job: Grow food

Starling said an important finding of the survey is more than 50% believe the top job of agriculture is to grow food. Most surveyed said they want agriculture to make sure food and agricultural products are available when consumers need them and they want the products to be healthy, safe, and affordable.

Starling said in other words, consumers still want farmers and agriculture to “keep the main thing, the main thing” of making sure food and ag products are readily available. He stressed that issue far out-ranked other issues such as the environment, sustainability, and community development.

“There is a difference among party lines. Republicans tend to want products available while Democrats are more likely to focus on some of the sustainability issues,” Starling explained.

Turning to the Farm Bureau focus groups that were held in the four largest metropolitan areas in North Carolina last summer, Peele said the key point learned is that trust remains high in farmers among those in the focus groups, those interviewed had no connection to agriculture. Those surveyed said they really like small farmers.

What’s interesting is that those in the focus group said they didn’t like big agriculture or big farms, but they couldn’t define what “big” actually is. Peele said those in the focus group basically didn’t like “big” anything.

“When we asked them further at what point does a farm become a big farm, and you start to lose trust in them, without fail, none of them could respond to that, none of them had a clue, they just know they don’t like big,” Peele said.

Peele said the best way to overcome the bias against “big” is through more transparency and by being more open with consumers and share more with them. “We need to be willing to open up more and have a dialogue with consumers, and welcome any questions or concerns they may have.”

“Quite often they mention going to farmers’ markets and talking one-on-one with farmers. When that happens, they’re hooked, they’re in the game, and we can talk with them regardless of what their attitudes were early on,” Peele said.

And similar to  the Chamber survey, the Farm Bureau focus groups show that consumers are most concerned about food safety or freshness, and then, primarily due to the pandemic, availability of food was a top concern.

“I don’t recall that (availability) being the top 10 in past polls. People took it for granted, never really had to worry about it,” Peele said.

About the Author(s)

John Hart

Associate Editor, Southeast Farm Press

John Hart is associate editor of Southeast Farm Press, responsible for coverage in the Carolinas and Virginia. He is based in Raleigh, N.C.

Prior to joining Southeast Farm Press, John was director of news services for the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C. He also has experience as an energy journalist. For nine years, John was the owner, editor and publisher of The Rice World, a monthly publication serving the U.S. rice industry.  John also worked in public relations for the USA Rice Council in Houston, Texas and the Cotton Board in Memphis, Tenn. He also has experience as a farm and general assignments reporter for the Monroe, La. News-Star.

John is a native of Lake Charles, La. and is a  graduate of the LSU School of Journalism in Baton Rouge.  At LSU, he served on the staff of The Daily Reveille.

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