High consumer expectations, low levels of appreciation make it tough to be a farmer, finds new research

In its new global study, Cargill found consumers had a hard-to-satisfy wish list for those who put food on our tables—with most claiming to feel knowledgeable about how our food is raised. Farmers should care most about “providing safe, healthy, abundant and affordable food,” said a majority of survey takers. Yet those same respondents would prefer their food come from smaller/specialty, local or organic farms—which can’t necessarily compete on cost.

“Farmers are foundational to feeding the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way,” said Pilar Cruz, president of Cargill’s feed and nutrition business. “But they do so under pressure. On one hand, affordable food is central to many families’ budgets. On the other, people are questioning the farming approaches that have made food more available and affordable.”

In its latest Feed4Thought survey, Cargill found half the people surveyed in the US, China, Mexico and Spain saw a farmer, primarily, as a “person who feeds the world.” Just a quarter chose “steward of the earth’s natural resources”—perhaps reflecting that one-third of contributors doubted the long-term sustainability of today’s agriculture. They want farmers to be sustainable though: “Sustainable” was the word that best described what participants wanted a farmer to be. Efficient was second. 

“We need farmers to tell their stories. We need sound science and reliable data,” said Gabriel Carballal, a Uruguayan member of the Global Farmer Network, who works closely with Cargill. “The only impediment to a desirable outcome for all is accurate information about how farming and food production really work.”

Survey findings suggest a need to engage consumers on animal farming in particular. Although there was a 95% positive view of farmers, animal protein producers were viewed less favourably than farmers who grew crops.

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