Why Americans are Falling Back in Love with Agriculture
By: David Eddy
A recent poll reveals how Americans feel about food, no doubt heavily influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, giving them a newfound respect for the nation’s farmers and ranchers.
For the first time in Gallup’s 20 years of tracking Americans’ views of various business and industry sectors, farming/agriculture is the clear leader. During the August poll, Americans were asked whether their overall view of a business sector was very positive, somewhat positive, neutral, somewhat negative, or very negative.
Farming/agriculture had already ranked among the top-rated industries before 2020, but it zoomed to No. 1 with a 69% positive rating — an 11% increase.
According to Gallup, this year’s rankings reflect meaningful changes in the ratings of three industries that are delivering vital goods and services to Americans during the pandemic. These three — health care, farming, and pharmaceuticals — are all rated more positively this year than in 2019.
With a 13-point increase to 51%, the health care industry has advanced from the third lowest-ranked industry to near the middle of the pack. This is the first time in the 20 years of Gallup measurement that a majority of Americans have rated health care positively. Speaking of health care, the pharmaceutical industry’s image has improved modestly since last year, moving up seven points to 34%. As the second lowest rated, it ranked ahead of only — no big surprise here — the federal government.
The biggest slide, however, has been for the sports industry, with its positive score falling 15 points — from 45% to 30%. The beleaguered sports industry now has a negative image, on balance, among Americans as a whole, with 30% viewing it positively and 40% negatively, for a -10 net positive score. This contrasts with the +20 net positive image it enjoyed in 2019, when 45% viewed it positively and 25% negatively.
Interestingly, in the press release that Gallup issued to highlight the survey, the pollsters broke the results down extensively in the sports industry, as well as a few other industries. They looked at everything from the age, sex, and political party for other industries, but for agriculture/farming they note only that the increased positive rating for agriculture/farming is seen about evenly across U.S. subgroups.
Yes, even when farming takes the top spot it doesn’t get the publicity. To put it in modern consumer news media parlance, it’s simply not considered “sexy,” especially when compared with such high-exposure industries as sports. That view is unlikely to change soon.
The key here is that in times of trouble, like the current pandemic, people strip down to what’s really important. They’re expressing their gratitude for the work of three industries that are crucial to people’s well-being: farming/agriculture, health care, and pharmaceuticals.
This begs the question: Will that heightened appreciation for farming continue after this horrid pandemic ends? I think it can. Perhaps not to the current level, but the pandemic is awakening people to the advantages of eating at home. Many are discovering — or rediscovering — how much easier and more economical it is to eat healthy at home. More than that, people want to absolutely trust the source. They trust themselves in the preparation, and they trust you in the provision.
How to build on this newfound level of goodwill? A laser-like focus on food safety is critical. But close behind should be an unflagging commitment to quality. Becoming No. 1 is one thing, especially when aided by current events that we all hope won’t remain current for long. Staying No. 1 is going to take a lot of work, but it is a challenge I believe this industry will embrace.