While many things change from one year to the next, Iowans’ confidence in farmers and how they farm endures according to the Iowa Food & Family Project’s (Iowa FFP) annual Consumer Pulse Poll.

Conducted last month, the survey asked 351 Iowans about their opinions regarding a variety of food and farming topics. The majority of respondents were female, affluent, highly educated and make the majority of their household’s food purchases. The survey’s margin of error was 5.2 percent.

Now in its fourth year, the survey showed continued improvement in how food-minded Iowans perceive today’s farming practices, their knowledge of how food is grown and self-assessed interest in learning more about what farmers do. 

Rewriting headlines

In a time of heightened awareness of food and farming, shoppers remain confident that farmers are trustworthy.

  • Eighty-four percent have a positive impression of farming, the highest in the survey’s history.
  • Nearly three-quarters of respondents ranked farmers as doing a good to great job in caring for their livestock, such as cattle, hogs and poultry.
  • More than half (56 percent) ranked farmers near the top on a five-point rating scale when asked about their commitment to animal care, environmental stewardship and overall impression of the job farmers do.  

“These results are a testament to the fact that people know and trust farmers,” said Shannon Latham, vice president of Latham Seeds who also blogs frequently about food and farming topics. “Despite the media spotlight on the ag industry this past year, consumers continue to recognize Iowa farmers’ dedication to producing safe food and protecting our natural resources.”

Beyond the labels

Ninety-six percent of respondents consider themselves knowledgeable about how the food they purchase is grown (up from 86 percent in 2012), while three-quarters of respondents find food labels helpful, up from 46 percent just two years ago.

Among food labels viewed most positively by consumers, “local” ranks highest (65 percent), followed by “hormone-free” (45 percent) and “antibiotic-free” (40 percent). Labels declining in consumer support are “GMO-free” (28 percent), “organic” (25 percent) and “natural” (22 percent).

“I’m not surprised by the fact that ‘local’ rises to the top of the list,” said Anne Hytrek, registered dietitian at the Ankeny Prairie Trail Hy-Vee. “Our customers have also expressed interest in knowing their food is grown and sourced locally. For us, that means within 200 miles of our store location.”

Support of “antibiotic-free” food labels was of particular interest to livestock organizations like the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). According to Joyce Hoppes, IPPA promotions director, the slight downward trend in support is reassuring, but also means an area of opportunity for farmers to shed light on the practices they have on their farms.

“Antibiotics have been in the news this year, which served as an opportunity for farmers to share the safety measures in place surrounding their use,” she said. “Farmers use the medicine when necessary and do so under veterinarian supervision, following precautions to ensure there are no traces of antibiotics before an animal enters the food system.”

Lindsey Foss of the Iowa Soybean Association and Iowa FFP coordinator, said the annual survey provides important feedback from the people farmers care most about: their customers.

“The Iowa FFP relishes the opportunity to strengthen relationships between farmers and consumers by facilitating greater understanding through dialogue and personal engagement,” she said. “Farmers are excited about the fact that people want to know more about how their food is grown and we’re pleased to enable more conversation, knowledge and trust.” 

For more information and complete poll results, visit IowaFoodandFamily.com.