Building Public Trust in Agriculture
The amount of information available to the public today is overwhelming to many consumers. A wealth of knowledge is available to anyone at the click of a button or the turn of a page, so how do agriculture advocates ensure that information about food production and agriculture is accurate and assures consumers that our food is safe and produced in a sustainable way?
Why is industry transparency is so important?
Consumer perceptions of agricultural operations can vary widely, some see a small, family farm operation while others conjure up an image of industrialized feedlots and heavy emitting machinery. The reality of the agriculture industry can fit somewhere in between – modern producers using 21st century technologies and practices to ensure efficiency and productivity, all while continuing to be stewards of the land they farm.
The agriculture industry is continuously changing, and many Canadians have little understanding about how food is produced in 2022 Consumers, food processors and retailers are demanding increased transparency about agricultural production practices. And agriculture has responded by ramping up advocacy and education efforts to ensure consumers understand and trust those producing their food.
Food processors and grocery stores are beginning to often provide social and corporate responsibility reports to consumers as a marketing tool to demonstrate the sustainability of their brand. Greater pressure is being put on producers to comply with production standards set by industry.
Producers across Saskatchewan have tools at their disposal to demonstrate to the public that they operate in a responsible way. Programs such as Verified Beef Production Plus (VBP+) and the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) are examples of programs that aim to provide transparency to the public. VBP+ offers training and certification for cattle producers to prove their operations meets high standards for animal care, food safety and environmental stewardship. While on a broader scale, EFPs offer guidance regarding best management practices on the farm such as identifying environmental risks and creating a management plan to mitigate them.
Programs such as these validate production methods that most producers are already using and help to communicate those practices to the public in clear ways. Producers have always been open about their production practices, the role that producers can play in righting misconceptions about the industry is more important than ever.
Consumer concerns and how agriculture can help address them
“If people are most likely to trust farmers, scientists, and academics when it comes to information about food production – producer need to make sure the public has a connection to those sources.”
Recently Canadians have pinpointed the cost of food and keeping healthy food affordable as two of their top concerns. Opinion research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI) suggests that Canadian consumers are overwhelmed by the amount of information available to them. Furthermore, consumers don’t know which resources are trustworthy for gaining accurate information about agriculture.
CCFI also provided a closer look at who and where consumers look to for information about the agriculture and agri-food industry. Regarding food safety and providing information about food production, consumers indicated that the people they trust the most for information are farmers. For information about food safety and nutrition, consumers put scientists and academic researchers at the top of the list, followed by farmers and grocery stores.
Where consumers get their information from is just as important as who they listen to. Canadian consumers consistently listed google searches and websites as their first resource when looking for information about agriculture and food production. The internet is one of the quickest ways to gather information, but it also makes it easier to stumble upon inaccurate information.
If people are most likely to trust farmers, scientists, and academics when it comes to information about food production – producers need to make sure the public has a connection to those sources. As agriculture advocates, making sure the information you are sharing reaches the most influential platforms can have a big impact. Public trust research across Canada shows that visiting a working agricultural operation has an impact on a person’s perception of agriculture, and public trust initiatives operated by different groups can help to get people interacting with agriculture in positive ways.
Putting in the effort – advocacy in Saskatchewan
Many organizations have identified the disconnect between farm to table throughout the province and have been working to provide more information to people in Saskatchewan about the agriculture and agri-food sector. Realizing the importance of connecting all in the province to the industry that produces their food, organizations such as Farm and Food Care Saskatchewan, Ag in the Classroom Saskatchewan, and 4-H Saskatchewan, provide resources and information to the public.
Farm and Food Care offers resources and connection opportunities for businesses, governments, and individuals to learn about food production, while Ag in the Classroom focuses on providing education through Saskatchewan elementary schools. Both organizations offer various resources for those who are interested in learning more about agriculture, both independently and through workshops. Organizations such as these provide valuable information for those new to agriculture, as well as those actively involved in it. Their work bridges the gap and connects everyone in the agriculture and agri-food chain, helping to create more awareness of the agriculture industry as a whole.
The Government of Saskatchewan also places focus on encouraging public trust in the agriculture sector. Since 2013, the provincial government has launched their annual Public Trust Survey to find out what Saskatchewan consumers know about agriculture, what they need to know more about, and how their perceptions of the industry change year over year. 2021 results showed that overall, Saskatchewan residents have a positive perception of agriculture – with 89% of respondents strongly agreeing that they see agriculture in a positive way. Saskatchewan residents appear to have a more positive view of the agriculture industry than compared to a national level, with Saskatchewan agriculture scoring higher across all categories.