Public perception of agriculture is more positive than many might think, with the majority of the population believing farmers to be hard-working, professional and deserving of their support.
Exclusive research conducted by the IGD for the Oxford Farming Conference showed that only nurses were considered to be more hard-working, with farmers ranking alongside doctors, fire fighters, the police and teachers.
|Public perception of British farmers, from the IGD’s survey. Click here for more results from the survey (PDF)|
And when given a list of words to describe farmers, over half of the 1000-plus people surveyed by IGD last September believed they were “important”, while 40% said they were “professional” and a third said they had “high standards”.
Perhaps more significant was the fact that a massive 88% of those questioned believed that farmers deserved the full support of the British public, while 81% said they should have better prices and purchase conditions from the supermarkets.
Another positive was that the great majority (88%) agreed that Britain needed to be more self-sufficient in food and a similar proportion believed supermarkets should focus more on selling British food.
Addressing the Oxford Farming Conference, IGD chief executive Joanne Denney-Finch said the long list of positives gave British farmers a rare opportunity to build up consumer loyalty. “The food security debate has resonated with the public and here you have a ringing endorsement that farming matters,” she said.
But there was still an issue with the price of food, with 79% saying food was too expensive.
“I’ve heard some people from the farming community argue that food has been too cheap for too long,” said Mrs Denney-Finch. “Clearly the public isn’t convinced. Most British consumers prefer to buy British food, but only a small minority expect to pay extra for it.”
Farmers should step up their marketing to ensure that the positive feelings people had about British farming translated into more cash in their pockets, she suggested.
“Consider how the big brands go about it. At their best, their adverts make you feel well-disposed towards their products. Then, when you’re shopping, you’re reeled in through eye-catching packages, displays, signs and promotions. I realise that’s more difficult when you’re a community of small businesses rather than a single big company, but it’s no less important – and that would be my top priority.
“In my experience, the public has never been more disposed in your favour,” she added. “You are highly appreciated, with an approval rating to die for. But now is the time to make hay, to be louder than ever before about your special values and the things that set you apart.”
There was still room for improvement, especially when it came to animal welfare, where half the general public believed standards needed to be raised.
But another indicator showed that many people felt they did not hear enough about farmers, so there was no need to be coy about promoting the industry in the market pace. “You may never get another opportunity as good as this.”